Over the meadow and through the woods

In this story I am the grandmother and it’s my house that’s in the woods.  But that wasn’t where I headed for Thanksgiving.  I drove away from my northern California redwood forest, as I often do, to spend Thanksgiving in the city with my daughter and granddaughter.


Los Angeles was warm, leaning toward hot, the whole time I was there. It’s 400 miles from here to there on Interstate 5, which runs the length of California and then some.  On my drive south, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The sun was shining and everyone I encountered along the way was feeling festive.


During my visit, my granddaughter asked why I can’t live closer to her.  I said I wish that was possible, but I like cooler weather. In fact I love my Marin County fog belt. 


Two days after Thanksgiving it was time to come home and since it had been around 80 degrees the day before, it didn’t occur to me to check the weather before leaving. I don’t like to drive in the dark, but once in a while in the pre-dawn, when traffic is light, it’s nice to get an early start.


About 5 A.M. I headed north, leaving the lights of Los Angeles behind as I slowly climbed the mountain toward Fort Tejon. (For non-Californians, that’s where Christo installed his giant yellow umbrellas.)  Rain began to fall almost immediately. The side window felt icy-cold. I left the Valley floor wearing a tee shirt and I didn’t want to steam up the windows with the heater and besides, I thought, teeth chattering will help me stay clear-headed.


The Grapevine – the part of I-5 that goes over the summit and then drops you down close to Bakersfield – is generally picturesque.  This time I couldn’t see a thing because the rain quickly turned to snow.


It came on so fast, it was a shock. Gusts of wind made driving a struggle.  The lack of traffic was a liability because there were few taillights to follow.  The town of Gorman at the top is about 4100 feet and I don’t remember a Thanksgiving storm before that powdered the junction white in minutes.   


Snow piled up so the lane markers were no longer visible. Everything was fuzzy. I drove as slowly as possible, trying to get behind some big trucks in the right lane so they’d make a path I could follow.


Stopping wasn’t an option. Had I pulled over at the top, I’d have been snowed in and without chains, it could have taken hours to get out.  I said a prayer, fought the wind for control of my car, and drove on.


I sang loud to keep from getting dizzy and counted the minutes ’til the road begins the descent into the next Valley and there, at the truck stop where I like to refill my coffee, just minutes from the blinding storm, was the bright sunshine again.


The rest of the trip was uneventful and I looked forward to doing some Christmas decorating at home – stringing tiny lights that glow like a fairy tale in the northern fog.  Except when I got home there was no fog.  Only sunshine.  And no fog this morning either. And today is warmer than normal with a prediction of sun all week long. 


I want my seasonal weather back. I need to get in touch with Al Gore and see if he can do something about this.  

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Turkey, turkey, turkey for days.

Three evites and two phone calls and several emails this week reveal the plans of friends and family.  Ed and Barbara made reservations at the Indian casino near them in the wine country of Northern California.  They’ll share a restaurant meal with a son, daughter-in-law and grandson. 

Sue and John are headed (with lab, Lucy) to Santa Cruz for a long weekend. They’ll take walks on the beach, eat too much, toss the ball for Lucy, play board games with family and friends,  and then do it all over again.

Peyce in Los Angeles, an actor/singer/great Southern cook, has his gang of vagabond performers over every year.  Since I never make it on the day itself, I always hope to find Peyce at home a couple of days later – along with some of his leftovers.

This season never disappoints – no matter where my family has been and no matter how few or how many of us gather.  And there was that one year – a fluke – when plans changed and I found myself alone on turkey day.  Still, celebratory feelings prevailed.  I called Max’s Cafe , ordered one of their special turkey dinners to go, picked it up and kicked off my Christmas movie DVD-watching extravaganza. 

My daughter and I have often traveled to join the rest of the family at someone else’s house.  We’ve also gone the restaurant route with friends, and maybe we’ll do both those things again, but when we’re someplace else on turkey day, we start getting really excited on the way home because we know that we’ll end up cooking the whole meal ourselves within the next couple of days.  We crave the leftovers. 

Thanksgiving is a good time to express gratitude.  It’s a good time for hugs and memories and watching the Macy’s parade first thing in the morning, and it’s also great having all that food around over the weekend. 

Who are those people who claim they’re sick of turkey two days later? Most people I know have plans for the food they don’t consume at the one big meal.  You won’t hear us complain about all that turkey.  We’re not the ones asking the TV cooking show hosts for new ways to treat the food the next day and the next.  

I’ve watched my brother gleefully attach our grandmother’s (God rest her soul) old fashioned food grinder to a counter top as soon as the dishes are cleared so that he can claim some choice chunks of turkey for his famous turkey salad the next day.

I regularly bake too many pumpkin pies so we can have pie for breakfast for days.  

I don’t understand the need to disguise leftovers with clever recipes. If you’re concerned about the leftovers from your own feast, not to worry, send ’em on over here. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Curtains? Miles of windows to cover before I sleep. Help!

I just moved into an old cottage with oddly-shaped rooms and miles of windows of various sizes. Love the windows, but my $$$ total for curtains and rods purchased so far – for only two of these rooms – is scary. Winter’s here and soon family will visit and I’ve got bare windows.  I don’t sew. Any ideas for cheap solutions?  I’ve just posted this in the “wanted” section of Craigslist in my area:

Curtains? Does anybody have any neutral ones for sale? 

Tiers? Tab tops? Panels? Cafes? Just moved into an old cottage with walls of windows – all different sizes. The good part is windows are lovely. The iffy part is buying curtains to cover all. So I decided to just cover the whole dang wall of windows in something inexpensive-to- free. Anybody have any neutral colored tiers or cafes or even panels?

First is the kitchen with a wall of windows that measures 85″ wide x 34″ long. I’m flexible about fabric – just not too sheer. As for color -something that  doesn’t scream. White? Beige? Brown? Tan? Ivory? Cream? Neutral of any kind. I have tons of curtains in storage myself, but none fit this configuration. Ain’t it always the way? Thanks for your creative thinking.


Ó Anita Garner


No-Calorie Snacking Tips From Me & Stephen King

By Anita Garner

Here’s how I keep calorie intake low while enjoying all the foods I love.  If you eat it at a different time of day, it’s calorie-free.  Pizza for breakfast.  Leftover steak with Bearnaise sauce as  a mid-morning pick me up.   Pie whenever the pie mood strikes, except don’t call it dessert.  Only dessert pie has calories.

Stephen King covered a related topic beautifully in more detail and much better than I ever could in an article he once wrote for Entertainment Weekly years ago.  I’m going to go ahead and validate every one of his suggestions below.

Stephen King’s healthy entertainment diet

From the unbelievable-but-true department: Since my world-famous ”movie snacks” column appeared, a number of people have asked your Uncle Stevie for dieting advice. Me, a guy who never met a fat calorie (preferably deep-fried) he didn’t like. At first I thought giving such advice didn’t fit my job description as a commentator on the pop cult scene, but after further consideration, I decided it does. Because staying current with the pop culture is mostly a thing you do sitting down, right? And if you’re watching TV, listening to music, or going to the movies, you want to eat, right? So the question then becomes, ”Uncle Stevie, how do I maintain my keen pop culture edge without turning into a sumo wrestler who knows every single word to the Brady Bunch theme song?”

Luckily for you, I have some tips — stuff that would put Weight Watchers out of business. I’m taking a chance here; the Diet Police will certainly try to smear and discredit me in the press, but for you guys (he said modestly) I’m willing to take the risk.

First, know your enemy: the insidious calorie. You have to limit your intake of those little beasts. But does that mean you have to limit your snacks? No. Just remember to tap your food. When you sit down in front of FlashForward or Lost with a few doughnuts (”a few,” by definition, is six), remember to tap each one on a hard surface before starting to munch. Doing this causes the calories to sink (it’s simple gravity). Then, when you eat your doughnut, just remember not to eat the bottom part. Throw it away (or feed it to the dog), because that’s where the calories are. The rest of your doughnut is calorie-free.

You can food-tap a whole host of tasty snacks: popcorn, brownies (if they’re hard enough to tap without crumbling to bits), even ice cream bars (harder smacks on these are necessary to dislodge the calories). Tapping won’t work with cakes and pies, but fortunately for the devoted snacker, cakes and pies are what nutritional experts call baked goods, and when stuff is baked, the calories shrink from the heat and draw in to the center. So, when you serve yourself a nice fat wedge of chocolate pie, just remember to cut off the pointy end, because that’s where the calories are. When enjoying angel-food or Bundt cake, cut around the center ring and throw it away. The rest of the cake is calorie-free (except for the frosting, but you can’t have everything).

Oh, and never buy loose candy at the movies. Loose candy is a calorie trap. Buy your candy in boxes, then shake it — hard! — before opening. Shaking candy either knocks those pesky calories right out, where they stick to the cardboard, or kills them. And it doesn’t take a genius to understand that a dead calorie can’t make you fat.

Exercise, you say? I get most of mine in the car, using the technique known as seat-bopping. You’ve got to find something really fast and loud (I recommend the Ramones, early Elvis, or James McMurtry’s ”Choctaw Bingo”), then let the beat move you. Seat-bopping is dangerous in heavy traffic, but you can still clench your butt cheeks — like in the old Jane Fonda workouts — and if you’re on the turnpike, put your party wagon in cruise control and shake your shoulders as well. At stoplights, especially those annoying long ones where the arrows point in every direction except the one you want to go in, you can really let loose. I learned to do the Mashed Potato and the Watusi while waiting for various lights to change, and — not to blow my own horn or anything — I’m a killer dancer. Do you get looked at funny? Of course, but ask yourself which you care about more, staying slim or some stranger’s opinion that you’re having a medical emergency at the corner of Main and Broad.

When watching TV, strap five-pound weights to your ankles and do leg lifts during the commercials. Not only is this a good cardio workout, but each 60-second set of lifts burns a thousand calories or more.

One other thing: If you actually believe any of this stuff, I have a bridge I want to sell you. And I will take checks. Because remember: Every time you write a check, you burn 200 calories. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?