Quit picking on Starbucks.

I like the concept of a coffee culture. Caffeine is my vice of choice and Starbucks enhances the experience. Starbucks didn’t take away any independent coffee shops around here. They were already mostly gone. We have a couple of small, family-run restaurants left, but we didn’t really have a meet-me-for-coffee place until Starbucks built several.

Of the four Starbucks locations close to me, one is so popular that my only complaint is it’s tough to find a seat. I love the idea of being comfortable hanging around with your latte for as long as you want, until the concept means I can’t find a table. One location in my small town has become a satellite office, with every surface covered with laptops, simultaneous cell phone conversations, and meetings large enough to occupy several tables pushed together.

So now I avoid peak times. Early mornings and mid-afternoons are best. That’s when my favorite Starbucks resembles exactly the kind of coffee-shop-as-small-town-microcosm their critics claim they eroded. At one of the long wooden tables there’s a moms’ group with strollers tucked into a nearby corner. Another couple of tables hosts knitters. Knitters who chat. Very early in the morning, a phalanx of uniformed peace officers waits to order. Arriving mid-afternoon, with walkers and canes, here come the rabble-rousing residents of the senior community across the road.

There’s moaning about Starbucks being such a chain operation. I’m personally comforted by the consistency of their look and feel, the clean restrooms, and even the music they play. Critics scoff at the “pretension” of their coffee language – completely made up to impart the aura of a never-did-exist European coffee experience. Clever marketing, I say.

But I’m not objective, because I have a small entrepreneurial crush on Howard Schultz, who put a group together to buy out the originators of the Starbucks brand in Seattle and personally became involved (some say too involved) in every aspect of every cup of coffee sold. Everything about the building of the company interests me, its ups and downs and adjustments, and Schultz’ buck-stops-here recent comeback after closing many stores.

If you have a welcoming, independent local coffee shop that serves all your needs, you’re lucky, and I will never demean the efficiency of a roadside McDonald’s for coffee and a baked apple pie, but for everyday caffeine ingestion in pleasant circumstances, Starbucks is just fine.

The silly side of aging

Age Gain Now Empathy Suit
Jokes about getting old begin in childhood and continue for decades until – gasp – one actually shows signs of age. It’s another case of it’s funny ‘til it’s not. Even when the joke’s on me, I get it, I really do. We joke because what else are we gonna do?

Hooray for Baby Boomers, whose aging numbers are now so great that their wants and needs can’t be ignored. ’Bout damn time.

As we recognize each new twinge and wonder why we keep forgetting things, scientists are busy studying ways to simulate these conditions, illustrating for a younger crowd exactly how bodies feel as we adjust to increasing years.

Enter AGNES, the pretend-you’re-old suit developed at MIT.

AGNES is an experimental piece of wardrobe that duplicates symptoms of aging so that no matter who’s wearing it (her) the facts of life are right there.

This is not for completely altruistic reasons, of course. Marketers want to appeal to the buying side of this burgeoning population. Research can help them make labels easier to read and help designers insure easier navigation of steps and walkways. All kinds of entrances and exits and hardware are being examined right this minute.

For instance – would you like to get into and out of the next new car you buy much more easily than before (without the appearance of actually being older?) The answers are coming right up.

We who are just ahead of Baby Boomers would have gladly told the researchers these things for free. In fact we tried; we’ve been vocal about aging for a while now, but until the marketing opportunities aimed at millions of older Boomers appeared, not many wanted to listen. So thanks, Boomers, for moving into the land of “Have you seen my keys?”

Wondering about a world with fewer cars

I’m thinking about cars a lot lately because I’m in them a lot lately. When I’m not in one, I’m dreading the next time I’ll have to be in one. I’m tired of automobiles. I’m worried about gas prices (again.) The love affair is fading, but breaking up is hard to do.

I drive a very nice car that takes me places and plays my music and feeds me news, holds my coffee cup, warms or cools me, and does everything a car can do to help a person get around, but there isn’t a car special enough to make me fall in love with driving again.

No offense to my perfectly fine vehicle, but I dream of a walking life – some modified version of the olden days when there was a central business district and houses began right there at the edge of town. A person could walk to accomplish most daily errands. For longer trips, there was a family car, but it wasn’t in use all day, every day.

The love affair with my car evolved the way most do in the good old U.S.A. It seemed so natural at first, the car seducing the teenager, promising new adventures as soon as the driver’s license came in the mail. For a brief moment, as grown-ups, we defined ourselves by what we drove. (Okay some still do) but over the past decade or so, something’s changed for me and driving doesn’t resemble freedom in the slightest. What feels free is NOT driving.

Some people believe a time is coming when people will look back at single-person car occupancy as a quaint and uninformed period in our history. Will our descendants laugh at us for turning our lives into such car-centered productions? Will they wonder how we ever thought it could work? Before we can get out of our cars, we’ll need additional forms of mass transportation that can function without creating a new blight on our imperiled landscape. Maybe they’re being designed right this minute and we just don’t know about them yet.

If so, the future will perhaps include mandatory controls about who can drive alone in a car and when, because most drivers won’t let go voluntarily. Giving up the right to drive is such a fraught topic, it’s likely to include a bitter battle. I wonder if my granddaughter’s generation will define “freedom” without including owning a car.

Eye exams make me insecure.

With multiple choice tests you stand a chance of getting at least some of the answers right. For me, multiple choices bring on second-guessing. This situation is not a confidence-booster at the eye doctor’s office while being examined before purchasing hundreds of dollars worth of glasses and contacts. The doctor clicks that giant face-mask-like black contraption with the eye-holes into place and asks, this one or this one?

Me: Uh…

Doc: A or B?

Me: A. No, B. I’m not sure.

Doc: Number 1 or 2?

Me: I think 2. No, could I see 1 again?

What is so tough about this? Am I worried that choosing the wrong letter or number will disappoint the teacher, I mean doctor? Glimpses of the past, of not living up to someone else’s expectations? Oh Lordy, here comes that machine thing again and now there’s also a number 3.

Next there’s the wall chart, accompanied by a feeling that I’m somehow a disappointment because I can’t read that last line.

I always wonder, after leaving the eye doctor’s office, was it my lame guesswork that determined my new prescription, or does the eye doctor’s knowledge somehow compensate for my insecurity about this whole process?

Right now my eyes are dilated so I can’t see squat, but when the effects of these eye drops wear off, will my brand new, very chic and very expensive glasses reflect my possibly incorrect choices, or the doctor’s skills?

Thanksgiving – Before and After

real-simple1As soon as Halloween is over, I look forward to Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. No shopping.  No wrapping.  No costumes.  Good mood. Good food. Great leftovers.  We eat early and eat too much, then return to eat again. There’ll be a neighborhood stroll between snacks, but there will be more eating. 


We’ll have delicious late-in-the-day sandwiches.  We bring in special rolls (some of us love sourdough, others prefer wheat.) There’s nothing exotic about our Thanksgiving planned-over sandwiches, but there’s no other sandwich all year that tastes this good. Frank Bruni writes about his family’s similar sandwich tradition in Real Simple Magazine.   

By dessert time, music starts. Christmas begins with Thanksgiving pie. Some years Johnny Mathis kicks off the season.  Sometimes it’s Burl Ives, or Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown soundtrack. 


Meanwhile, I’m already humming a chorus of “Count Your Blessings.” Some years there’s a need to start the humming earlier, a reminder to myself that no matter what else happened during the year, there are still reasons to be grateful.


(photo from Real Simple)

















October Thirty One-th

october-30-2010-first-tooth-gone-tooth-fairy-pillowJust had a conversation with a small friend.  A very close friend.  She reported that the first baby tooth has come out.  First tooth fairy payoff received this morning. Her “Belle” princess costume is ready for trick or treating.  Birthday party invitations were just sent out for a November date.  When asked about so much going on, the five year old said that yes, she is very excited.  She said, “Today is October thirty.  Tomorrow is the thirty one-th and after that is November and that’s my birthday year.”

You go girl.  Celebrate all over the place. Stretch it out as far as it’ll go. Make it last, and I’ll join your party in progress. Soon enough the world sends us reminders about real life, some of them the distinctly non-celebratory kind.  So let’s get started on your birthday right away and keep it going all year.

Favorite Day Of The Week

Thursday’s my favorite day of the week. A Thursday’s as good as a Friday, in terms of anticipation, and  anticipation is the key. Looking forward to something is often more fun than the “something” when it actually arrives.  The one thing we can decide all by ourselves is what and how much we’re anticipating. 

On Thursday, whether or not there are weekend plans, I look forward to the weekend.  This was true even when I worked weekends, and it’s true today when I am more or less in charge of my own work schedule.  There’s no accounting for this little fizz of joy that bubbles up around afternoon coffee time on a Thursday.  It’s the feeling that something good might happen.

When I was a kid and a brand new member of the workforce, I bought the “hump day” reasoning.  Everyone talked about how great Wednesday would be, because it’s the halfway point in the week.  But that didn’t last long.  It never did carry the anticipation of a Thursday. 

On the opposite side of this falls the least favorite day of the week.  Sunday seems to be the letdown point for lots of us. Some say it goes back to childhood when, by Sunday  afternoon, fun was done and a new school week loomed.   

I’m thinking maybe it’s the letdown from all that Thursday anticipation. But I’m not giving up the Thursday feeling just to alleviate the Sunday afternoon blues.  Anticipation is still the only part of the week I can control.

Read the instructions first? Really?

Now comes the time for getting acquainted with our new products.  Assembly instructions.  Operating manuals.   Warranties.  Oh my. It’s not just the digital camera, the cell phone, the hand steamer, the bagless vacuum with three different filters, it’s also the computer which had to be replaced in an ill-timed holiday rush.

Because of gifts received and necessary purchases and appliances that broke and even furniture (good old Ikea) there’s a stack of booklets on the table screaming, “Read me.”  I say,  “Fat chance”  and keep walking.  

The simplest gadget of all – the hand-held steamer  –  is the one so far that refuses to cooperate.  It has two attachments – a brush and a lint thingy – meant to keep the steam a safe distance away from delicate fabrics. The attachments won’t attach.  We resorted to reading the three page booklet -obviously translated from another language.  It says, specifically, “Slide the attachment into place.”  There’s no possible way to “slide” anything.  If it’s going on there, it’d be more of a “snapping” into place.   We tried snapping.  Then forcing.  The parts don’t fit. 

So I filled the reservoir and steamed away without attachments, carefully keeping it away from the silk blouse I need to wear immediately. It spat at me.  

At this point I’m farther along with the new computer than the so-simple-a-child-can-do-it hand steamer. 

Top of To Do List before the new year:  Must sit down and read all instructions. Yeah, that’s gonna happen.

© Anita Garner 2009

My Own Christmas Newsletter. Spoiler Alert – Includes Swine Flu

December, 2009

        It may be better to give than receive, but I’d rather read your newsletters and cards than try to remember the past year in enough detail to write my own.

        Memory isn’t always accurate in my case.  A friend once accused me of “painting the past in pastels.”  I beg to differ.  Every writer I know paints the past in different colors but not all of them are pale. I don’t always note in which months these things took place, but I do recall the emotion vividly.

        Our little Caedan Ray had swine flu.  It began with symptoms of a regular flu but perhaps because it happened sometime in summer, an alert doctor tested for H1N1 and that’s what it was.  Immediately Caedan was quarantined with her mommy. Even her dad, Edan, couldn’t be close to her.  I wanted to go to L.A. to help, but the doctor wouldn’t allow that either.

        One of the most frightening parts was that one day Caedan got quieter and more pale and lay down on the floor. Cathleen rushed her back to the doctor where she was found to be oxygen-depleted and put on respiratory therapy. This disease can affect lungs so quickly and with terrifying results. Better news – Cathleen had a “regular” flu, but no one else close to them got Swine Flu.

        Caedan started Kindergarten in September, the youngest in her class.  She has just now turned 5. So far so good.  She loves school.  Loves the work and according to her teacher, loves visiting (too much it seems) with her schoolmates.

        I remain in Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, while my family is in southern California, so I spend a good deal of time commuting.  It’s worth it for the blessed fog and redwoods near me – and then the warm reception I receive when I show up at the door to my girls’ place.

        My biggest thrill so far this year (There are still a few days left and I wouldn’t mind another big thrill.  Are you listening, Santa?) was winning the John Steinbeck Short Story Award for my story, “Hank Williams Was A Friend Of Mine” which is from my collection in progress.

        I hope each of you has some pastel-colored memory to keep.  




© Anita Garner 2009






All Those TV Christmas Movies!

It’s pretty much a given – without the Lifetime and Hallmark networks – Christmas couldn’t exist.  I’m not knocking those two – in fact I schedule my season in order to leave time to watch just about every  Christmas movie. Most of them aren’t very good – by anybody’s movie standards – but they all end happily.  Every single one of them.  And this time of year that’s just fine with me.  I like my holidays predictable.

Predictable is the word for the titles.  Most of them are named “The Christmas………..” 

To fill in the blank, choose one of the following:  Miracle. Note.  Wish.  Family.  Reunion. Angel.  Magic.  Wedding. Story. Cottage.

Many plots center on a scrooge-like character (young man, young woman, old man, old woman) who never learned the real meaning of Christmas – so we need one big event to teach them. 

Another favorite plot involves someone who’s been away from their home town.  This person has often had a high-falutin’ career in the big city and for some reason returns to said home town and proceeds to re-fall in love with 1)  the town, or 2)  a former sweetheart who stayed there all this time and is miraculously single.  And of course through this return visit, the true meaning of Christmas is revealed.

A plot that repeats every year – the successful business person is sent home to shut down a plant/store/company that is the main source of income for all residents.  During the course of this 1-1/2 hour movie, the person sent to do the deed gets converted to small-town thinking and finds a more efficient way to run the plant/store/company so that all get to keep their jobs. Turns out the people who work in the little town are the kindest, most generous folks this executive has ever met.  And once in a while the hatchet man/woman falls in love with the local plant supervisor/employee spokesperson

Of course many plots feature children. Sometimes it’s kids trying to keep mommy and daddy together.  Sometimes it’s a kid whose parents have died.  Or kids who haven’t learned the real meaning of Christmas yet but are still too young for that high-falutin’ career in the big city, so their lessons must be taught in a slightly different way, but rest assured, those lessons will be taught. Pets are often involved. 

I’ll watch all of them.  At least I’ll try. Just because I can guess what’s coming in the next scene, that’s no reason to give up my cup of coffee, feet on the coffee table, Christmas movie playback.

© Anita Garner 2009