Moving brings out the (fill in the blank) in me.

A person can learn a lot about herself by the way she handles moving.  Over these past few days of removing my belongings from one place and depositing them in another, several of the traits I like least about myself came marching along like those famous dwarfs carrying their going-to-work-tools. 

As I jockeyed for a parking spot and unloaded the car several times, I bumped smack into new-neighborhood patterns and when I finally sat down, exhausted, in the one chair that wasn’t piled with stuff, here they came, all the Moving Dwarfs: Impatient.  Tired.  Fussy.  Even a little bit Bossy.  Oh and turning the corner right now, here comes Whiny.  

On one my first trips from old house to new, I pulled up in front of this charming cottage in the canyon and a woman hurried toward me.  She didn’t say hello.  She said, “Are you moving in?”  (Note for later reference; at no time did her conversation include the question “Do you need any help?”)

I smiled and said yes.  She said, without a smile  (and I’m putting this at the top of my list of things never to begin a sentence with)  “Just so you know…”  She went on to tell me not to park in that spot – ever – because someone two houses down likes to use it.  Here’s another thing she said, and another way a person should never start a conversation with new neighbors:  “Around here….” 

I forget what rules of the neighborhood followed, but it doesn’t matter – the unwelcome was complete. 

What followed was the worst of me.  I responded crisply, with two words – “Duly noted”  – and trudged on past her.  Was that my grandmother’s voice I just heard coming out of my mouth?  The voice that used to say “Don’t take that tone with me little missy.” 

Now, days later, I remind myself that every neighborhood has at least one member of the greeting committee who lays down the rules.  It’s just that I don’t respond well to that kind of hello.  Instead of the me I like to think exists most of the time, the nice person who gives people the benefit of the doubt, I responded like one of the Moving Dwarfs listed above. 

After a strong cup of coffee and a glance outside through one of the many windows that add to the charm of this cottage, I am a different Dwarf:   Calm.  Even Contented.  

Outside my kitchen window, three giant redwood trees stand.  I am awed by them and filled with gratitude knowing that while I go about my everyday duties, such beauty stands sentry nearby. 

In front of the house, a pushy neighbor.  In back, the reason I moved here.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Bulking Up – Is Fiber The Superhero Of Nutrition?

Fiber is the word we hear everyday, a word that was never once spoken aloud in my family until recently.  Dietary fiber is considered one of the most important ways to maintain good health. Fiber discussions are everywhere and that leads to fiber guilt. Now when friends get together, we’ ll often check the fiber content of the muffins before choosing one.   (We don’t always choose the one with the most fiber, but we feel obligated to check.)

The earliest mentions I remember of better living through fiber were worded in euphemisms and had to do with specific bodily functions.  It was mostly older people in my family discussing their bodies as a form of social interaction.   We knew that Gramma’s second husband needed more bulk in his diet.  She told us so in great detail. I’m still not all that comfortable with such in-depth knowledge of other people’s bathroom habits, but it’s too late now.  The conversation is multi-generational and public.

Fiber crossed over into general chat territory when it began to be marketed as a way to lose weight. Overnight, fiber was a food celebrity.  Hello fiber, goodbye fat.  In case you missed it, evidently the world runs on fiber.  They’d been trying to teach us this for years (food pyramid, etc.) but when the sermons switched to how certain kinds of fiber whoosh the fat right out of our bodies, we paid attention.

I saw a show on PBS called “Brenda Watson’s Fiber 35” about how you can change your world by eating that many grams of fiber a day.  It seems a bit ambitious for me.  I counted up and I’m lucky to get 20 grams a day right now.  It looks like I’d have to quit working in order to achieve 35.  But it is getting easier, what with fiber-added everything.

I’m conducting my own very skewed research.  I’m eating only fiber-added foods that taste good.  The nutrition/snack bar selection is huge, but I’ve found only one brand so far that tastes like real food.  I’m enjoying the new sugar-free, low-calorie fudgsicles with fiber added.  There’s a creamy yogurt with several grams of fiber and, of course, a mountain of bread loaves.  I’m trying them all.  (A bread lover doesn’t have any trouble eating bread.)  So far the ones with “double fiber added” are still best used only for toast.

Kashi and Fiber One are the two brands that consistently taste good (all their products I’ve tried so far) and have heaps of fiber.

Like most of us, I’ve developed the label-reading habit.I know, for instance, that when I bring home a bag of Cheetos, it’s not going to bulk me up in the good way.  I still eat Cheetos, but now I’m free to enjoy them with absolutely no expectations.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Breaking Up With A Friend

Here’s a question that comes up a lot lately:  Do you still hear from her/him?  It used to feel like a badge of honor to say I’ve had the same friends forever, but some of them just don’t fit anymore.  I still cherish a few friendships that have endured through decades , but not all the people I used to know are people I want to be with today.

When we were younger, we clumped together.  Birds of a feather for various reasons and various causes.  We formed parent groups, church groups, hobby groups, business associations and community activist groups.

Today I’m not big on belonging to several groups.  The ones that help create community for a reason – those still feel valid.  But continuing to get together just because it’s what we’ve always done – that doesn’t work so well.  And why, I wonder, am I such a wuss about accepting that friendships don’t always fit forever?

Sometimes we fall out of touch and find we’re just fine that way.  Then, maybe because it’s so easy to do on the internet – we reconnect, only to learn it’s different this time.  A few sentences after hello we might not have anything else to talk about.

Letting go of relationships doesn’t happen without guilt.  I find myself making excuses more often to skip seeing that person.  The answer’s right there, but it seems almost too simple to accept.  History alone isn’t enough.  Seasons change.  Values change.  People change.

My friend, Catherine, who recently celebrated her 92nd birthday, approaches this in the most realistic (almost clinical) way.  She says we need different kinds of relationships at different stages in life and not only does she let go of the ones that don’t fit anymore, but she quickly replaces them with people who do.

Surely I’ve been replaced in the lives of people I used to know and looking back, it was done so skillfully that it seemed a natural evolution.  But I agonize over these things.  I wish someone would tell me how to accomplish what Catherine does without leaving bruises.  

 Ó Anita Garner 2009

Embracing The Generation Gap

It feels right that there are differences between generations.  I like the gap.  It’s enjoyable being with younger people and then it’s sometimes a relief  being with people  who begin sentences with “I remember when.”

When I was in my teens, we didn’t call the progression from child to adult anything at all.  We weren’t “teenagers” or “adolescents.”  We were sometimes “youth” (how’s that for an impersonal label?) but mostly we were somebody’s kid.  Since our generation didn’t have its own name, we didn’t call the spaces between generations anything special either.  We had no “gap” as such.  That term began to be tossed around more during the blooming season of flower children when we cautioned the world not to trust anyone over 30.

By then it was too late to distrust my elders.  I was already looking forward to being older.  I admired women in their 30’s – thought they had all the answers.  I couldn’t wait to look like them, dress like them, and somehow achieve their mysterious sophistication.  It seemed to me then that they owned something I needed.

Now adolescence is prolonged so that sometimes a new generation doesn’t get started at all.  We’re chipping away at what I always considered a natural distance between kids and parents.  Terms like “re-juvenile” and “boomerang babies” describe some in their 30’s and 40’s who either never quite launched from the nest, or because of various factors end up living back with their parents for a time.

The sticky part is that while these grown children were away, some of their parents were taking good care of themselves, eating right, exercising, developing new interests, trying on different things and closing the gap even more, making it tough to tell who’s who in a household.

I embrace the concept of generations helping each other, and during these tough times, we see some families deciding to stay together, returning to an earlier model of more than one generation living in the same house. 

But I’d hate to see the differences between generations obliterated completely.   Nature acknowledges distinct seasons, and it feels natural that we should too.  It is a comfort, especially during trying times, to check in with the generations that came before us and realize that this too shall pass.     

Ó By Anita Garner

Other People’s Kids

“All unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy.”

                                          ….sign in a shop window

I sympathize with the owner’s wry sentiment.  It’s a tiny store with narrow aisles and plenty of kids roaming among the knick-knacks. I’ve been known to avoid stores entirely until the kids go home.  It’s not their fault.  Kids are doing what comes naturally – testing the rules, wandering away from their parents, bumping into things  and picking up breakables.  If their parents look away for a couple of seconds, kids will leave the store with the goods.  That’s how they sometimes behave. 

I was always the person annoyed by screaming babies on the plane.  Sure I knew they couldn’t help it, but since I’d pretty much raised mine, I deserved a break,  so whenever possible, I changed seats. 

I like kids but I was never anybody’s Universal Mama.  I didn’t try to befriend every child I met and didn’t ask to hold every new baby.  I enjoyed raising mine more than anything else I’ve done so far, but after she took her own steps into the world, I was content getting back to my own life.

A few years ago, sitting in the boarding area at San Francisco International, a baby screamed and the parents couldn’t comfort her.  Something inside me shifted.  My first thought was not the usual – I hope they don’t sit near me on the plane.  Nope.  This time it was  – why aren’t those parents taking better care of that poor little thing?

The small town I live in is full of children.  Every other person in the checkout line is attached to a stroller.  One day I found myself making direct eye contact with a spiky-haired toddler with a messy face.  I don’t know what manner of sticky cookie had attacked him while his mommy shopped, but he grinned at me through the gook and I grinned right back at him and felt a pang when he left the market.

One day you’re minding your own business, steering clear of noisy kids and all of a sudden every child  – everybody’s child – becomes precious. 

Maybe the universe prepares a whole bunch of us for on-call nurturing duty because a new batch of vulnerable beings arrives every day.  Nature has been known to turn unusual species into willing caretakers so that babies and puppies and kittens and all manner of helpless creatures will find care when they need it. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009

What does “Aging Gracefully” Mean Anyway?

I just came back from spending the weekend with a girlfriend in a nearby town.  (Yes, we still call ourselves “girlfriends” after more than three decades of adult friendship.) When we have a girls’ weekend, we talk constantly, eat out, critique every movie, TV show, book and nutrition plan we’ve heard of, and inevitably, the subject turns to how it feels to be this age. 

Becoming a grandmother isn’t what made me realize I’m aging.  It started when my last parent passed.  That’s when I first listened to whispers of my own mortality.  Every morning, one of the whispers says, “Better get moving.  Get to doing.”

Occasionally I don’t feel all that graceful when I wake up and parts of me don’t work as well as they used to.  (Knees, I’m talking to you.)  At first I’m ticked off, but by the end of the day I ask myself, what did you expect?  Things aren’t brand new anymore.

I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully.  My mother’s only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.  She considered all men potential boyfriends and in her teens she married a man who, through some combination of mercy and grace, turned into a grown-up husband who behaved like her sweetheart all the days of their lives.  He raised his wife along with us kids while she clung tenaciously to the role of teenager, even in the face of some gritty realities.

When I got my first mailer from AARP, I jumped right into their arms.  There I was coasting along in the vague category of ‘somewhere past her mid-forties” and as long as my grown daughter wasn’t around, nobody knew for sure.  Then came that AARP card and full disclosure set in.  It felt like a kind of freedom.

I asked my mother once on a particularly significant birthday, did she feel any different?  She said what we’ve all heard a million times, that she still felt 18 inside.

I’ve had several significant birthdays of my own since I asked her that, and now I know what she meant.  And she was also right about the moisturizer.  Much more of it is required.

Most days I don’t care whether taking good care of my skin (I still do it) makes anyone like me better, because another surprise benefit of getting older is that it doesn’t matter as much what somebody else thinks.  I wish my mother had allowed herself that perk.

During this latest girlfriend weekend, we agreed that aging doesn’t feel like a cause for despair, but instead it feels like a gift, something we get to do if we’re lucky. Aging gratefully is something I wish my mother had understood.  

Ó By Anita Garner 2009  

Two And A Half Men, Goodbye

I’ve watched Two And A Half Men since it began, not because I was especially drawn to the premise but because there weren’t many half hour sitcoms left to choose from, and that whole CBS Monday night block is a breath of fresh air.  The show must have tons of viewers, since Charlie  Sheen is said to be the highest paid actor on television. 

It always did require considerable suspension of disbelief to accept the character, “Charlie,” as a stud.  And boy do we get to see and hear lots of examples of his sexual conquests.  I keep thinking maybe this show is meant for a male audience because I don’t know any women who’re drawn to that type.  He dresses like a little boy.  Wears  shorts all the time, and those ’50’s-era bowling shirts – didn’t a costume person already put them on Kramer on Seinfeld?  I believe that helped establish Kramer’s character as a kook, but I’m not sure how the costuming works with Charlie as a sex symbol.

After years of watching (I automatically dvr CBS on  Monday nights) I realize I’m hardly paying attention and am fast-forwarding through the meanest parts. Then I figured out it’s because, to me, it’s all mean.  I gave it one more week.  Last week I watched closely, waiting for the funny.  I never found it.

It’s not the acting.  Charlie Sheen is a talented man.  It’s the role and it’s the show.  Sure, there are some good parts -good acting also from Jon Cryer as Charlie’s brother, Alan,  and Holland Taylor as the mom and Conchata Ferrell as housekeeper, Berta, but even those well-drawn characters aren’t enough to make the premise enjoyable for me.  

I’m weary of everyone picking on Alan.  I understand how tragedy can become comedy, how in the right hands any sad story can have its smiles, but I can’t find the smiles here.  Alan gets a divorce, loses his house, has to move in with his brother, Charlie, who week after week reminds him that he’s always been a loser.  And then Charlie lets him know that he resents the money this whole brother-helping-brother thing is costing. 

Everyone makes fun of Alan’s son, Jake  (Angus T. Jones) who’s portrayed as a stupid/gross teenager.  Does he need to be only that, all the time? 

The show is unremittingly mean and dark and instead of being funny, it’s cringe-worthy.  Maybe it’s the times.  Maybe it’s just me.  I’m not in the mood these days.  So today I entered “Do Not Record This Series.” I’ve still got Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Our Computer Is The Family’s Scrapbook

When my granddaughter was born four years ago, I put photos of her into every kind of photo-saving device – albums, scrapbooks, Grandma’s brag book, refrigerator magnet frames, etc.  Trouble was, I took so many photos and received so many, that they started getting ahead of me.  When I want to show someone how she’s grown, most often I go for the jpg’s on the computer and attach them to an email.   It’s an extra  step to update wallet photos and to continue buying albums to put on the bookshelf, so I stopped. 

Now I have hundreds of pictures on my computer.  Lord help me if this thing ever crashes. I’m thinking I’ll get another flash drive and transfer them.  Maybe if, as soon as I put them onto my computer, I also save them to flash drive, I’ll be protected. 

My little girl was visiting me recently and she likes to watch the Windows Slideshow Screensaver.   One day I left the computer for a while and when I returned, I found her standing in the doorway reciting, as if for an unseen audience:

“My birthday party.   Skyla’s birthday.  School.  Mommy.  Abba.  Me and Hammy (that’s me).”

And on and on.  When pictures of her as an infant pop up,  she adds  a story from her imagination about what said baby in the photo was thinking, i.e. “That baby wants to ride my scooter.”  She knows the picture is of her, but she enjoys making up her “That baby” stories.

I don’t know how the sequence of slides is determined, but it seems like we get the same ones over and over for a few days and then up comes one we haven’t seen before.  I suspect when I add to my endless jpg’s from another source, they reshuffle.   I recently put in a bunch of vintage pictures.  The little one was standing behind me when a new one came up and she asked  “Who’s that?”  I told her that is her great-grandmother, that the lady in the photo onscreen is my mommy.  Then I showed her a picture of my parents together.  

Next time I found her in the doorway narrating the slideshow, she had assimilated these people (who passed away before she was born) into her performance.  She said, like a tour guide, “That’s Hammy’s mommy.  That’s Hammy’s Abba.”  Then as I walked by, she paused.  It must be a work in progress, and she wasn’t ready to reveal it yet.  Soon she’ll come up with something interesting about them and I’ll be eager to hear it.  That’s something no mere photo album can offer.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Caffeine Self Defense

At the nearby Starbucks, across from the middle school, at certain times of the day – every morning before class and when school is out in the afternoon – the lines of young people waiting to order coffee are out the door.

Backpacks on and cell phones engaged, clumps of them are pushing and joking around and ordering like world-weary veterans of coffee houses.  Some of these kids are small – as is often the case in middle school where that first year it’s tough to tell the 8th graders from the fifth and sixth graders they recently were.  They grow at different rates, so we have some girls dressed like The Pussycat Dolls and others dressed in oversize playclothes.   And I give up trying to guess the ages of the boys.  Some are six feet tall and the voice hasn’t changed. 

 Next door is a juice/smoothie emporium which doesn’t have nearly as many customers. 

I’m in line wondering where they get the money for custom coffee every day?  Do the same people who bought them their iPods and cell phones and PDA’s know they’re here at Starbucks before 8 A.M. ordering complicated coffee drinks like experts? 

Do parents drop them off at school and then the kids sneak over here?  Or is everyone aware – both parents and  school employees – that this time before school starts is loaded with potential pitfalls?

How about after school?  Why are they spending hours in and around a coffee shop?  Aren’t they expected home?  They fill the coffee shop and the plaza in front every day, and they’re all holding drinks.  

Current wisdom says  caffeine can be beneficial for some, when consumed in moderation.  Alternate current wisdom says caffeine is  bad, bad, bad for kids. 

Age-old wisdom says that kids who are ingesting stimulants before and after school may be altering their abilities (or maybe just their desire?) to do whatever the heck else they’re supposed to be doing.

I don’t envy the teacher facing this group in school.  But wait  – here comes a teacher to join the line.  He’s obviously a favorite.  All the kids let him cut in.  Then they cluster around him to sip and chat.  

But then he’d have to be a coffee drinker, wouldn’t he, just to keep up?  If the best defense is an offense, then this teacher’s best offense is  – who will spell it for us today?   That’s right.  C-a-f-f-e-i-n-e.  

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Who’s Using A BlackBerry?

That’s not the real question, of course.  We know lots of people who use BlackBerries, including President Obama, and we’ll probably learn during the  wall-to-wall inauguration coverage whether he’ll get to keep his, what with all the security concerns.

Switching from a regular cell phone to a BlackBerry is a big decision for me.  Could a BlackBerry be my new tiny dream machine?  Here’s what I hope it’ll do:  Handle most of my communications needs while I travel a lot this year.

I don’t love my clunky old laptop and in a hotel I use it mostly for emailing and looking up addresses on the Internet.  I’m told a BlackBerry can handle these duties and then some.  If I get a BlackBerry, is there a model with a screen big enough so I can actually read the Internet display?

Texting is another quandary. I’m not a texter, but might be if I can actually find the letters of the alphabet.  Since a BlackBerry has a keyboard, that might just do it. 

The dilemma is – which model to get and how much do I need to spend to get the features needed?

I hope to avoid buyer’s regret – or future BlackBerry lust –  by knowing which features I’ll wish I had, if only I’d paid for them at the start. 

Help me please.  I’m suffering from BlackBerry-Indecision-Paralysis.

Ó Anita Garner 2009