We need high speed trains – now!

Trains contributed so much to our country’s vitality, but unlike some other nations, we almost completely abandoned ours.  (Sorry Amtrak.) Now everything about training seems, once again,  exotic, adventurous – and best of all, practical. 

In California, we’ve been promised high speed trains many times.  Finally, we voted to re-build our rail system within this state, one link at a time, but now the start date of the program, like most big statewide improvements, is uncertain. 

I’m counting the days/months/years until I’ll be able to hop on a high speed express from the northern part of the state where I live, to the southern part, where the rest of my family members live.

The “high-speed” part isn’t even the most important. I won’t mind spending time in a comfortable seat watching the world go by, instead of circling to find a parking spot at the airport. I don’t mind if it takes a while longer to arrive by train than it takes to fly to the same destination.

I’m ready – really really ready.

Ó Anita Garner 2009


Sexy Too Soon – Miley & The Gang

Miley Cyrus and the stripper pole at Teen Choice awards – did you see it? 

I saw it in the clips shown on TV later and checked it out on You Tube and while it wasn’t a full pole dance, it was meant to simulate one.  Honestly it wasn’t a shock.  When the skirts on pre-teen and teen stars rose up to crotch level, there wasn’t anyplace else to go except to take that next step into stripper territory.  No offense to strippers.  No offense to mini-skirt wearing ladies.  I was one of the latter and have nothing against the former.

Girls getting sexy too soon makes me sad for them.  What they’ll miss is far greater than the immediate attention they’ll gain.

What I’m missing as a shopper for a much younger girl is little-girl clothes.  Among the size 6X panties in the  girl’s department there’s a wide  assortment of tiny thongs and very few offerings in full-coverage cotton prints.

I raised one girl and I’m watching her raise one, and she and the little girl’s daddy find they need to have frequent discussions about everything clothing-related. 

You moms of pre-teen and teen girls have my sympathy.  I wonder how you’re handling the total exposure of the girls your girls look up to? 

Ó Anita Garner

Fear Of Fear

What would we  do if we weren’t afraid?  

Are we better off accepting our fear, knowing we’ll live with it forever?  Or should we try to ignore it?

Have you seen some of the self-help literature about dealing with fear, especially the tips for people who have to do something in public that they’d rather not do – say a shy person making a speech?  One suggestion says acknowledge the fear, addressing it directly, and I picture this conversation:

“Hello old nemesis. I see you there.  I can feel you too.   Stay here if you want to, but I’ll be going around you to get to where I need to be.”

I haven’t tried that yet, but I will next time it seems appropriate.

My brother and I had a conversation years ago about how much each of us can credit fear for the progress in our lives.  “Fear” for us could have been defined as parental expectations or other personal pressures. 

We looked at how much each of us had learned to do, and then what we had done with what we learned, and we came up with a theory that fear was a big motivator in much of what we’d achieved. Fear kicked us in the butt.  Got us going. 

But obviously fear is sometimes paralyzing.  I’ve been there too, and I wonder which is the more frequent result: 

1) Fear causing us to run away from something before giving it a chance, or

2) Fear causing us to run toward something that turns out to be good.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

The Music-Memory Connection

I read an article by Judy Jones* about boosting memory in general and it contains a fascinating sidebar.  The work of British psychologist Catriona Morrison is quoted briefly, and specifically it mentions her exploration into how music affects memory.  (link to sidebar below)

Which of course got me thinking about how music affects my own brain, and not just in terms of memory. I’m a writer  and I’ve found that when I’m working, if I play music from exactly the time and place in the piece, one things happens.  A kind of calming.  A yes, that’s right.  Uh huh.  It’s a feeling that tends to increase my recall of details needed for the piece.

But if I switch the CD to something completely different from the story I’m working on – another whole set of mental triggers kicks off – and sometimes they lead to something better than what I started with. Often the new thoughts aren’t memories at all, but rather completely new avenues.  Of course this often takes me to an entirely different route, far away from where I began – which could be considered procrastination, but I’m not apologizing for that. 

Here’s an  important finding from my own personal research: Playing music while I work always leads to something good emotionally, which eventually leads to an enhanced version of whatever I’m doing. 

I’m now testing this theory away from the computer – changing the CD’s while doing routine chores to see if I let my mind go and follow the music, will I be more or less productive or relaxed or in what ways, exactly, will things change? 

I can see why therapists consider music a crucial tool.  It’s an absorbing topic.  And now I’ve wandered away from the original article I want to recommend.  Must be the music I’m playing.

Here’s a link:  http://www.more.com/2025/5338-how-music-boosts-your-memory

* Judy Jones’ complete article: http://www.more.com/2025/5336-new-rules-for-saving-your

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Multi-Tasking Pro & Con – Some very (very) brief comments

In this abbreviated exchange of emails, one generation of multi-taskers laments and the next generation has the last word. 

I emailed my friend, Sueann and my daughter, Cathleen, to brag about a fleeting spurt of energy.  Most of our group emails have to do with handicapping Dancing With The Stars or So You Think You Can Dance, and since neither show is on right now (sigh) we’re back to discussing real life.

Sueann and I go way back to the days when each of us raised kids and ran a company and volunteered many hours and were sometimes married and sometimes not.  We were multi-tasking dynamos. Cath belongs to a more Zen school of thought.

Here’s my email to Sueann and Cath:

I am pleased to announce that I may be getting my multi-tasking mojo back.  Proof positive is the fact that I’m making oatmeal/raisin/walnut cookies at this moment, while scanning the newspaper, while jumping up to add paragraphs to a short story in progress, while replying to emails.  Oh yes I am.  I had almost forgotten how to multi-task, but it’s working for me today.  I will probably give myself a headache, so I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

Sueann:  I am so proud of you.  I lost my multi-tasking mojo a few months ago and I’m not concerned about where it went.  I’ve decided that it just could be overrated. 

Mine:  Oh puh-leeze.  Today is a freak occurrence.  I didn’t seek it out.  It just snuck up on me.  I agree with you.  It’s overrated.  I look back at us in the 80’s and wonder, what were we thinking?

Sueann:  Okay then, a sneak attack is acceptable.  Don’t want you traveling to the dark side. I’m actually eating almonds as I type this.  Does that count?

Cath:  Can’t talk.  Skiing.   

Ó Anita Garner 2009





Christmas is too far away.

Last month a local radio station played Christmas music and called it “Christmas In July.”  I was right there, singing along.  Our local American Cancer Society Discovery Shop also declared it was “Christmas In July” and devoted half of the store to decorations, special china, the works. I browsed but didn’t buy.

Now that it’s August, Christmas still seems too far away.   I could use a little Christmas right now.

Every year I buy at least one new holiday CD.  Last year it was Yo Yo Ma’s “Songs Of Joy & Peace”  which features guest stars, among them  Diana Krall and James Taylor.  I’m humming those songs and seriously considering taking my holiday music collection out of storage. 

It’s been a long time since Christmas created any kind of frenzy in my life.  I don’t shop all that much even during the season, but I look forward to a round of trading meals and baked goods and conviviality with friends.  

I’ve now settled into more of an appreciation of how Christmas looks and sounds and smells and of course, how nice everyone is to everyone else.

With this  weather, it’s hard to picture lights twinkling from every window the way they do in December, but if I squint and use my imagination…

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Tupperware Love Affair

The dog ate my favorite Tupperware bowl.  Several times a week I reached for it – the biggest one Tupperware made – but it wasn’t there anymore and it hadn’t been there for years.  I had a sense memory of it and kept reaching for an imaginary replacement.  That bowl could do everything.

It was bigger than a breadbox, bigger than any of my cupboards, which is why it lived on top of the fridge.  Then we got our sheepdog, Emily, who destroyed it. She ate my beloved Tupperware Jadeite Fix N Mix Bowl. My fault for putting leftovers on the patio for her in that bowl.  She never outgrew the chewing stage, and how much of a challenge was a plastic bowl when this dog could chew a corner off the house?

I’m not the only person who’s a little bit crazy about my favorite Tupperware.  My mother threatened to make my brother and me sign a contract before we could take home leftovers in one of her prized pieces.

So decades after Emily ate my bowl I still hadn’t replaced it, and one day I spotted a duplicate in a thrift shop.  This one isn’t the greenish color, but it’s identical in every other way.  It’s now on top of my fridge where it belongs and when it’s not working, it holds bags of chips and snacks.

One Christmas, I wanted to get my granddaughter her own giant Tupperware bowl and fill it with cookie cutters, but when I glanced at the catalogs I found they’d changed.  I didn’t wait to see if they were better, I just determined to find an old one.  There they are on ebay under “vintage.”  I bid on one in the original color and I lost, bid and lost, bid and lost, grew weary of the chase and finally gave up and overpaid in a “buy it now” column” and got one of the original Tupperware bowls in a mustard color.

Now my daughter and her daughter have their own behemoth bowl that doesn’t fit into any of the cupboards in their city apartment.  They’ll thank me later. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Trader Joes – Finally!

Our little town is one of a string of small towns in this part of Northern California that together have finally come up with the magic formula to cause a Trader Joe’s to open  nearby.  That statement, of course, has nothing to do with the way these deals really happen.   There was intense lobbying from both sides and parking studies and all kinds of rigmarole involved, but we TJ’s fans don’t care, just so the danged store opens as planned in August. 

A friend of mine worked in development for a nearby city that pined for its own Trader Joe’s.  The board she reported to kept asking her, “Can’t you get us a Trader Joe’s?” and since she’d tried many times, she knew the answer, which was “We don’t fit their expansion profile.” 

Yet many in my community didn’t want the store, complained about what it will do to traffic patterns, etc.  While checking online to find the actual opening date, I encountered a website loaded with comments for and against TJ’s coming to this area, with some commenters asking, “What’s the big deal?  It’s  just another grocery store.”

Answers are plentiful at a TJ’s fan site.  Yes, here’s a grocery store with its own fan site, devoted solely to loving all things Trader Joe’s.

I don’t know why I feel the way I do about them. When I lived near one of the stores in Southern California, I wasn’t there every week, and it’s true they don’t always have the same things in stock trip after trip.  If that’s what you require from your grocery store, you and TJ’s may not be a match.   

A shopping trip to Trader’s is much more of a grab bag (awful wordplay – I apologize) where we make a list based on ads (their Fearless Flyer and their radio ads are fun) or our particular needs, and then end up wandering the aisles finding cleverly packaged, well-displayed stuff we never knew we wanted.  Yes, it’s the way many grocery stores entice us, but with TJ’s distinctly, deceptively laid-back spirit.

While all the comments online about our new store aren’t positive, many of them express the same kind of odd loyalty I feel toward this company.  Without blinders, with full knowledge that much of their success is in the marketing of their “brand”  (and their store brands) still I have never been disappointed with their merchandise and certainly not with the entire shopping experience. 

Parking?  That’s another subject for another time. The opening of a Trader’s will turn a too-small lot into an exercise in patience.

But for now, I’m glad they’ve overcome all hurdles tossed at them and I’m happy the welcome mat is out.   I’ll be in one of those cars looking for a parking spot.  

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Weather-watching obsession – does this make me an ol’ coot?

Watching the weather is a favorite hobby of mine.  I don’t generally get my weather reports from television, but I might as well be one of those people we see in comedies, who fixate on the Weather Channel and sit there for hours, soaking up data about places they’ve never been, never intend to go, and if they did go there, they wouldn’t know anyone. Those people are portrayed as coots. (One definition of  a coot:   simple-minded.)  A weather fanatic will say to no one in particular,  “I knew it.  I knew that system was gonna come in early.”  

Except for not watching the Weather Channel (tornadoes and hurricanes are exceptions that demand TV coverage) I may be one of those people.

I check the Weather Channel’s website several times a day for places where friends and relatives live.  Every trip for me begins with www.weather.com where I can fill in the name of any city and see what’s predicted for the next ten days. 

It might be an inherited trait, since my country born-and-bred father had a set of weather instruments on the back porch and glanced at them  several times a day, always remarking out loud on what he saw there.  He often disputed what the dials told him, and he was always right.  He could feel changes in his bones. 

Something about working out in the fields as a boy and his own deep respect for nature had permanently tuned him in to the time for sowing and the time for reaping. His instincts often did not agree with the calendar. He’d wake up and announce that he was going out to our vegetable garden. “I better go pull up the radishes and the collards before the sun hits ’em again.”   And this while rain was still falling.   He knew when a big change was coming.

I don’t have the knack he did for predicting imminent change, but I’m always hopeful about it. Our problems may stick around, but at least we can count on the weather to change.  When my diagnosis is boredom,  just watching the weather offers promise. 

One reason I love  my part of Northern California (and envy New Englanders)  is that the weather plays tricks on the forecasters.  Mother and Father Nature send along surprises  for us several times a month.  We’ll get rain when the sky was clear a minute ago.  Big winds arrive high up in the treetops, when the lower limbs don’t even know it yet.   Fog rolls in and out, but not always on the schedule we expect.  I’m disappointed when the fog fails to appear.  Like the redwood trees in the back yard, I rely on absorbing fog through my pores.  

I like being surprised by the weather.  Keeping the family’s weather-watching tradition alive  (my brother does this too) the first thing I do when the day arrives is go see what the weather is like outside, and I do it again before sleeping.  It seems I’ve been making my own notations out loud to no one in particular, without realizing it.   (Another definition of “coot” might be “predictable.”)

I haven’t been a grandmother all that long and sometimes I forget a small person is nearby. They’re always listening, aren’t they?  One recent morning while I was visiting at her house, I opened the drapes and stood there for a minute with my coffee cup.  From the little girl who’d snuck up behind me I heard, 

“Hammy, you forgot to say ‘It’s a beautiful day.'”

Generations of weather-watchers later, we’ve added one more.

Ó Anita Garner

Children at funerals

What is the advantage in taking young children to funerals?  In my humble opinion, their presence exposes them to indelible images that may later prove even harder to deal with.

I was raised in the Deep South during the 1950’s and our culture of dealing with death and the departed included the family’s insistence on an open casket if at all possible.  Coffin lids were closed only in cases of extreme disfigurement.  After the service at the home of family members or in the church social hall where casseroles were consumed, much was made over how the deceased appeared in death.  “Didn’t she look good?  And words meant to be a comfort – “They did such a good job with his hair, didn’t they?  Looked just like he did last week.”

Funerals were loud affairs with sobbing and moans mixed in among the amens and exhortations from the preacher.  Demonstrations of grief were many and varied.  Eulogists offered proclamations about the virtues of the departed while singers invariably waved handkerchiefs around – using them to mop sweat during humid summer events  or to dab tears away when the singer knew the departed, and sometimes a handkerchief was merely one more dramatic device. 

Good music at our funerals was a matter of pride and if a home congregation didn’t boast singers of the right caliber, a call went out to find someone who could offer the best interpretation of the songs the family chose.  A funeral was quite a show and I guess our people considered them a healthy way to get it all out, because folks would respond to a wail with, “That’s right!  Let it go, sister!”

Children attended these services.  I was a child myself when my preacher-father required me to sing at funerals.  Very soon (I started singing at funerals at the age of 9) I learned to avert my eyes because gazing on a coffin, even when I’d never met the departed, was disconcerting.

Some people today believe that taking children to funerals provides “closure” or at least a step toward that desired condition.  I believe nothing can provide closure to a fatherless or motherless child.  Of course many parent-less children grow up to thrive and even devote resources to championing help for other children without parents.

But all of this is to say that I wouldn’t voluntarily open up a discussion with a young child based on the theme, “He’s gone and he’s never coming back.”  Those discussions will come soon enough and will likely last a lifetime.

Ó Anita Garner