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

Holiday Newsletters Are Arriving – Fa la la la la!

Here they come again, cards and even better, envelopes bearing holiday newsletters and photos and tales of travels and details about what life brought and what it took away during this year that’s ending soon.

I love holiday newsletters.  I especially like the ones I receive from people with whom I don’t exchange emails all year.  Nor even phone calls. So this is often our one communication and it’s becoming increasingly important. I don’t want to lose touch with people even (especially)  if we’re not really in touch (much.) 

It’s the time of the year for looking at pictures of kids and pets and vacation spots that accompany the stories told within these one or two pages.  Stories are what I love. I even like to read newsletters with stories about people I don’t know.

 In the mail a couple of days ago, I got the newsletter written by the husband of my very first roommate.  I had the honor of being part of their wedding ceremony, back when we were  barely out of our teens. She’s always been a good communicator, so it’s a surprise that the stories of their lives during the year are told by him. It’s a side of him I hadn’t known before our paths took different directions.  I don’t know who takes the pictures that accompany the text – but maybe that’s her part of this annual mailing.

One couple I’ve known for decades – I used to babysit their young children – are now grandparents who are in such close touch with every family member, it’s a joy just to read the updates about these grown grandchildren I’ve never met. These are grandparents who can tell you about college classes and hopes and dreams and plans and romances of each of their multiple grandchildren. 

I have one grandchild – she whose photo will grace my own missives when I get them ready to mail next week – and I have to run to keep up with the goings and comings of this one little girl.  So the couple with several grown grandchildren, this family that travels from all over the U.S. and Europe  to get together each summer for several days – and then includes pictures with their mailings – they’re  my new holiday newsletter heroes this year.

Last season it seemed there was less mail, and I worried about the people who always wrote, but then stopped.  But this year, they started arriving earlier than usual, and there are more of them.  I’m wondering if maybe this tradition matters even more during a time when so many people have had to cut back on so many other things.

Keep ’em coming.  Your newsletters will all receive a glad welcome here.

© Anita Garner 2009

The kitchen in the center of this old house

I’m still unpacking in this new-to-me-hundred-year-old house in the redwoods.  Every now and then I climb onto a stool in the very large kitchen, stir some cream into my coffee,  and count my blessings.  I’ve had galley kitchens, pullman kitchens and whatever other glorified descriptions we use for “too small.”  One of my favorite memories is of my  first kitchen as a family lady.  It was a big, square room in a very small house.   

Over the years we moved on up and up and up to modern and big and fancy – but nothing ever took my fancy again like that old kitchen where my daughter’s first birthday party took place.

Nothing makes home home-ier for me than a kitchen that is the center of everything.  Modern houses have plenty of designated spaces for appliances and a granite counter for homework and a breakfast nook attached, but in these old places you can’t get from one spot to another without  going through the kitchen and I like that fine. 

In this house the kitchen is by far the biggest room.  It’s not fancy, but it’s welcoming. It has some funky built-ins.  A pantry and some curiously made shelves.  Rustic?  Oh my yes.  It takes  special mojo to keep the pantry door closed and leveling the new fridge into its spot is a joke. Nothing is level here.  

A side note:  Speaking of old houses, writer, Edie Clark, shares information about her restoration of the vintage “Mary’s Farm” in New England – with all its attendant quirks.  She’s featured in Yankee Magazine as well as her own books, and she blogs regularly at Edie’s stories are like fairy tales  for a Californian who loves history.  Not the ice on the pond and the shoveling of snow followed by the mud season, but the Currier & Ives  pictures that make the farm look like a Christmas card all winter. 

Back to my old house.  When this cottage was built, there weren’t ranch-style residences with a long hallway.  That was suburban architecture and back then there  weren’t suburbs. There were no family rooms.  No special acvitity spaces.  The kitchen was the only space large enough for the family to gather – except, I guess for the homes of the very rich  and their grand palaces, with which I have only a tourist’s acquaintance. 

I like to think this little house reflects the way many families lived in ye olden days – tight but accommodating.  The kitchen stayed warm all day, what with the cooking and the big table and the coffee and tea brewed all day long. 

I’m a decent cook.  Mostly Southern food.  I’m already stewing-up and frying up a mess-a-sumthin’, but my daughter’s a far more accomplished cook and I can’t wait to taste what she’ll make when she visits.  This Old House makes a person think of things like that. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009