A visit to Tombstone

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 3, 2013 12:29 AM

For the past few Saturdays, we’ve spent our time in tile and kitchen and bath stores. While that’s fun and ultimately necessary, we thought this weekend we’d do something a little different. Something that didn’t involve anything house-related but only exploring-related. We went to Tombstone.

Tombstone is most known for the shootout at the OK Corral, a confrontation between the Earp brothers and the local outlaws known as the Cowboys. The Earps, the eventual gunfight and the Cowboys were well chronicled in several somewhat modern films: Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner and Tombstone with Kurt Russell. I’m a fan of the second version largely because I’m a huge Kurt Russell fan for absolutely no reason other than I love his hair and his eyes. Several weeks ago, Wyatt Earp was on one of the movie channels and I stumbled upon it around 10:30. It had started at 10. Kevin was snoring on the couch; I was surfing a bit. I thought I’d put it on for a little while and then we’d go to bed around our usual time of 11ish. He woke up and we both got sucked in and stayed up to watch the whole thing until at least 1. And it’s not really all that good.

Kief-Joshua winery dog, Tommy, after too much wine

Tombstone was founded in 1879 and it prospered until about 1890 because of the silver mines. During its heyday, it had a bowling alley, four churches, an ice house, a school, two banks, three newspapers, an ice cream parlor, 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls and countless dancing halls and brothels, all of which were situated on top of the mines. It was also home to the famous Bird Cage Theatre, billed as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” This is where Wyatt Earp first spotted his final wife Josephine. She was an actress and her troupe toured through Arizona. We went to the Bird Cage today. There are still bullet holes in the bar, the wall and the ceiling. The mirrors behind the bar are original. It’s a lot smaller that it appeared in both films. The theatre is in the back, the bar is in the front and upstairs is where the ladies of ill repute entertained.

Tombstone is now a thriving tourist attraction. The entire main street is really nothing but gift shops crammed with silver and turquoise jewelry. There are “saloons” and places to eat. There is a three-times-daily restaging of the famous shootout. You can watch it for $7 each. We didn’t.

Instead we went to the Inaugural Tombstone Winery Wine Festival. It was in a dirt field across the street from the main drag. There were nine local southern Arizona wineries there. For $18, you got 10 pours. We wandered through the dirt, scoping out who was there and what they had. I had on cowboy boots – I thought it was appropriate – and they were quickly covered in dust. All I needed was a cowboy hat and a horse and I would have fit right in. Oh, and my leather chaps complete with fringe.

We tasted only reds, and ended up buying seven bottles plus the most delicious port that we plan to pour on Thanksgiving, for dessert.

The new wine line up from Tombstone

The wines aren’t as good as California wines. The climate is different after all. But there were some that were quite good; obviously, if we bought as much as we did. Two were from the Tombstone Winery. Both cabs. One a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon called Gunslinger and another from 2004 called Justice. While they were good, I think we also liked the Cowboy nature of them.

We were only there for a couple of hours and then we climbed into our big red horse for the journey across the plains. We’ll dine tonight on game (or twice baked potatoes) and whatever else we can rustle up from the land. Probably a salad with blue cheese crumbles and a nice vinaigrette. We’ll pop open the flask or bottle and then roll out the bedroll to sleep under the stars.

I think we’re also going to order up Tombstone on Netflix. Seems appropriate.

Celebrating the wild west tonight and wondering if maybe they had been drinking wine instead of whiskey there would have been a different outcome at the OK Corral. Something to ponder while I rustle up dem vittles. 

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In which Justin gets a job interview

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 27, 2013 11:59 PM

Justin graduates in December, after four and a half years of college. He started in the fall of 2009 at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in the College of Theater Arts, studying technical production. He quickly became enamored with lighting design and electrics and because the program at U of A isn’t as strong in that area as he would have liked, he transferred after two and a half years. Because he’s getting a BFA, his new school, State University New York at Fredonia required that he be at the school for at least two years. The end of December completes that obligation, though obligation seems much too harsh a word. He has been so happy in New York. The program has been everything he wanted. He was able to concentrate heavily on the electrics side of lighting and because the school is much smaller than the U of A, he has also been able to do more hands-on work.

For the past three summers, he has worked at a theater on Long Island, near the Hamptons. The first year he was an intern, earning $100 a week. The second year, he was a second year intern, earning $150 a week. Then they asked him to come back during their winter season, which runs over Christmas and New Year’s, and they hired him as an assistant master electrician (AME). This past summer he was also an AME, earning about $350 a week. He loved it; he may go back this winter season if they need him.

In the mean time, though, he’s been hard at work looking for work starting in January. As soon as he went back to school this semester, traveling across the state from the tip of Long Island to upper Western New York, near Buffalo and Niagra Falls, he has been ready to be done. It’s what I remember about my last semester of college as well. From the time I went to my first class in that January, I was already done. Trying to stay focused on classes and studies and papers and exams when the mind has already departed is difficult. He’s been having much the same issue. He’s doing well – all As and Bs according to the mid-term grades – but he’s done. His heart isn’t in it.

About a month ago he started focusing on his job hunt for after school. He drafted a cover letter that could be modified depending on the job and created a spread sheet to track jobs he’s applied to, when and status, including follow-up. He scoped out job boards for his industry and he’s sending out nearly one query a day. I get emails with a simple request: “Hi, mom. Can you look at the attached cover letter? I’m applying for a job at a cruise line and wanted to know what you think and if you see anything I should change. Thanks. Love you!”

I love those emails.

Yesterday I got a text that one of the places he had applied to, out on the North Shore of Long Island, at another school, wants to interview him. This week. For a real job.

Our little boy, the one with the glasses that were often too big for his face, with his fine auburn hair and his skinny little legs, has blossomed into a strapping young man with glasses that fit his bearded face perfectly, his fine auburn hair now a curly brown over his pierced ears, and his skinny legs no longer skinny. He’s a man. And he is ready to start his career.

Hopefully my next post on Justin will be titled “in which Justin gets a job.” Stay tuned. In the mean time, today I’m celebrating the tenacity and proactive approach of my kid. I’m very proud.

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On the bike again

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 13, 2013 9:53 PM

When Kevin and I first started dating, I was into biking. I had bought a hybrid several years earlier, shortly after my divorce, and spent many a happy Saturday and Sunday morning merrily riding through the canyons of Calabasas, Malibu and Agoura. Enter Kevin, who wasn’t a cyclist. He had a bicycle, an old 10-speed, that he had somehow procured in his divorce but it had belonged to his ex-wife so it was too small for him. Still, he liked the idea of getting into biking as well so we tooled around a bit, his lanky 6-foot frame on a bicycle built for someone 5’6”.

He ended up liking the idea so much that he also bought a hybrid. For the uninitiated, a hybrid is a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. They were very popular in the early to mid 1990s with people like us buying them because we didn’t really want to ride on trails and we didn’t really want to spend the money for a good road bike.

It was Kevin’s first brand new bike and he was thrilled. He had a bicycle that fit him and it was top of the line for the time. 

The more we rode, the more we enjoyed it and the quicker we realized that the hybrids, as great as they were, just didn’t suit our purposes. We really needed road bikes. We bought our first roadsters around the time we moved in together, in 1997. They were great and we put a lot of miles on them. Road bikes are lighter, with thinner tires and therefore travel much further much more easily. We put so many miles on our new road bikes that we quickly realized, again, that we needed something even lighter. After quite a bit of research, Kevin decided that what we needed were KHS so that’s what we got. 18 speeds, two chain rings so the low gears are more powerful for cranking on the flats and getting some good speed but the high gears don’t give as much ease for climbing. We don’t have what is known in the cycling world as “granny’s.” Granny gears allow someone to sit on their saddle and climb a hill, their legs churning without working too hard and the bike taking virtually forever to get anywhere.

We’ve had the KHS bikes for a number of years now. We used to ride 50 to 100 miles a week. But that has dissipated. In fact, we haven’t been on the bikes for at least six months if not closer to a year. Maybe it’s even more. I’ve lost track. Life gets in the way; we haven’t made the time. But when we go into the garage, we never fail to gaze longingly at our gorgeous metallic blue road bikes hanging on their hooks, gathering dust, their tires now devoid of air. Lately we’ve been talking about getting back on them. And today is the day that happens.

Kevin has dusted them off, re-inflated the tires, lubed the chains. I’ve found the water bottles and they’re filled with cool, not cold water. We only drink water when we ride; no electrolyte beverages for us. Water is what we need; water is what we have.

We’re going to slip into our biking clothes, the black spandex shorts with the padded crotch and the brightly colored Lycra tops. We’ll slip into our cycling shoes, the kind with clips on the bottom that attach to the peddles so you have to clip in and clip out when you start and stop. I hope we can remember how; otherwise we’ll tip over. We’ll put them into the Range Rover and head east, to a nice stretch of road that climbs a bit at first. We’ll get to the end and then turn around for more of a coast on the way back. We’ll have parked where there’s a great coffee/breakfast place we like so that afterwards, we can get some coffee, maybe a muffin. It won’t be a long ride, but it will be a good ride, one to get us back on the saddle again, and on the road again.

All apologies to Willie Nelson. 

And the desert smiles

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 7, 2013 12:07 AM

I’m in Tucson and looking out at the sun dancing in the Catalina foothills. It’s been a simply glorious day here, not too hot, a gentle breeze tickling the palm trees and running headlong into the millions of saguaro and prickly pear cactus that refuse to budge. Birds have been singing and the butterflies are everywhere in all manner of sizes and colors, from the smallest yellow to the largest orange and black. Occasionally there is one of ghostly white with gossamer wings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white-winged butterfly before. I wonder if perhaps the intensity of the sun has faded away the color it once had.

This morning we went for a walk along the expansive and dry Rillito River. The city has created pathways and bridges for walkers and cyclists that runs nearly the length of the river, a bed that I’m sure has water in it at some point during the year but never has during any of the times we’ve been here. There were plenty of people walking their dogs, others walking dogless like us. The number of cyclists was impossible to count. People on mountain bikes, others on road bikes; some out for a leisurely tour, others working up a sweat. Some were young, others older, still others old but all were happy and friendly. Good morning. ‘morning!

The sun crested eventually, dripping heat down upon us. We retreated to the air conditioning to watch a little football, do a little more work. Our entire weekend has mostly been about work and that’s OK. We have work; this is good. It is infinitely better than the alternative.

We relaxed. We enjoyed. We reflected.

Monday is knocking at the door already. It’s a faint knock but insistent. Tomorrow evening we’re thinking of going to the movies since we didn’t get a chance to do much of anything this weekend, at least not much of anything fun, not much of anything that was nothing. Sometimes nothing is what’s needed in order to recharge and re-energize. I did do a little bit of nothing later today. By nothing I mean simply enjoying the moment and not being involved in anything stressful. By nothing I mean something fun. I talked to a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while and it was delightful.

I’m standing at the window watching as two big bear-like dogs, Newfoundlands I think, are strolling with their owners. Plodding along, also enjoying the something that is nothing.

The last bit of sun is kissing the highest point of the hills; the rest is bathed in shadow, now flat and dark. The temperatures are starting to fall again. Soon the city will sleep and us along with it, before getting up to work another day, another week. Still, as the silence begins to settle, I am struck by the calm of it all. The desert, for all of its harsh reality is a beautiful place. It is filled with color and hope; with life. As the night begins to settle and the sun wanes, I think I can see it smiling. 

Thus the schizophrenic life I lead

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 5, 2013 12:45 AM

It’s Friday night, Fritini, and I am half way through my preferred Fritini cocktail of a Manhattan, straight up, ice cold with a twist. I have had a very busy day, careening from one job to a phone call to another job like a pinball flippered around in an old game. I wonder sometimes if I’m winning this game of life. I get tired. My eyes water after a yawn and my muscles start to cramp after each particularly long and therapeutic stretch. My hair droops; as does my skin. My exhaustion has always gone right to my skin. And then I look around at the miracles surrounding me and I know that I am in fact winning the game. I have a husband whom I adore and who adores me back. I have a nutbag dog. I have a wonderful home. I have the strength of family and endurance of friends. I have work. I am blessed.


I often feel pulled in too many directions. This is nothing new I realize. Everyone is always pulled in too many directions at once. In the primitive days of torture it was called being drawn and quartered, a particularly nasty way of destroying a spirit not to mention a body. I don’t usually feel pulled limb from limb but I do feel pulled in a myriad of directions. With a little duct tape I just put myself back together and move on.

I can be working on web content for one of my hospital clients and then I get a phone call about skin care packaging and then I need to attend to an article that’s due at noon. It’s enough to make the head spin. Mine often is like a top. It’s why between jobs and clients, I turn to the mindless chatter of the intertubes. I use my surf time to clear my head. There is perhaps nothing more schizophrenic than the news and politics of this country, and since I’m a news and political junkie I often peruse those types of sites during my surf time. These people can all talk out of both sides of their mouths and think nothing of the contradictions they spew at a rather alarming rate. Either they’re completely unaware of their idiocy or I’m too highly attuned to other schizoids. It’s fascinating to read.

Each week I am torn between writing work and making a living, and writing work that will hopefully someday make me a living. I love what I do. As I said, I am blessed. I am just not always able to keep up with it all. I bounce. I pivot. I sometimes don’t know what planet I’m on or what city I’m in.

Occasionally I am jolted awake in the middle of the night and for a split second I have no idea what day it is. It’s a very odd feeling. It makes me worry that I’m losing my mind. I know though that others have the same issue, so I think it’s more a function of overload. The mind just can’t always process what it needs to process simply because there is too much present and the mind is moving north, south, east and west all at once, pulled apart; drawn and quartered. Schizted out.

Interesting to equate my life with torture when I know that the life I lead is anything but. I may need therapy.

I have finished my Manhattan and have started cooking dinner all while working on this blog post, checking emails and thinking about the many different things I need to do this weekend, the many different directions in which I will be pulled.

I am not schizophrenic but I sometimes worry that I lead a schizophrenic life. As I gaze down at my outfit, I realize that I am dressed to mirror this fear. I have a Tucson, Arizona t-shirt on over a pair of Los Angeles, California sweatpants. It’s the perfect metaphor for this life I lead, being in one place with my heart in another and vice versa, one worth celebrating on this Fritini. 

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Lightning strikes

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 27, 2013 1:29 AM

I read today that Tucson is the lightning capital of the world. Granted I read it on a Facebook page that I follow, Downtown Tucson, but having spent some time in Tucson in the past, and especially in August, I am not at all surprised by the claim. It’s an accolade actually because lightning means thunder and both often are precursors to a fabulous storm. It all just serves to make a wondrous city ever more mysterious, interesting and gorgeous, from the sky down.

Evidently Tucson has been given this designation because it is in the desert, where the ground elevation is 2000 feet while the cloud base in the relatively dry atmosphere is usually around 10,000 feet so lightning bolts can zigzag through two to four miles of dry air, unabated, unchallenged. Lushly sharp.

Just before a storm, the sky swirls and darkens, moving from a light gray to a near black tinged with purple. I think it’s the purple that brings the lightning. Perhaps it’s the mythical aspect of the desert that encourages the sky to turn the color of midnight, dancing in the atmosphere, angry, forceful, purposeful, honest and true. It is a spectacular sight and when the lightning splits the sky, zigzagging down to connect to the earth. It is magical.

I’ve long been a fan of storms, and the ones that lace the desert are some of the most profound I’ve witnessed. I’ve sat on the balconies of the Westward Look, our favorite hotel in Tucson, with the air trying to cool but the humidity still high. Comfortable enough to sit with a glass of wine and watch one of nature’s most powerful shows. In the distance, the sky splits. Lightning always seems to be far away in the desert. It flashes quickly, lighting the air around and for a split second, the ground below. It’s often not accompanied by thunder but when it is, it is low and rumbling, until it cracks through the wall and rattles you to your spine.

Lightning is quiet. It just seems loud. It is all part of the monsoon season that strikes the desert in August.

The engine of the monsoon is the sun. As summer progresses, solar radiation warms the land and Pacific Ocean at different rates, inciting a tug-of-war with the winds. Until the land sufficiently warms, air flow above maintains a westerly flow. When the winds do an about-face, the monsoon begins.

The monsoon first begins in northern Mexico in May. The summer sun evaporates water from the Gulfs of Mexico and California and creates humid conditions over that produce rain. This rejuvenates plants. Vegetation begins to grow and moves water from the soils back to the air in the form of vapor in a process called evapo-transpiration. Humidity rises, fueling more rain and more transpiration.

On June 21, lightning zapped Pima County where Tucson is located 46 times, shooting electromagnetic pulses for each strike more than 400 miles across the landscape. Each pulse passed through a network of sensors that pinpointed where the lightning touched down. A day later, Pima County lit up with another 218 strikes, a large fraction of the 928 cloud-to-ground strikes that occurred on June 22 in the entire state of Arizona.

In other words, lightning strikes. And it is beautiful. It is stunning. It is magical. It is the desert and as regular readers know, I love the desert. I think the lightning is simply showing the way home.

It is humid

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 5, 2013 8:58 PM

I forget sometimes about humidity.  When you live in the desert or at least on the outskirts of it,  you get very used to dry air. It gets hot to be sure. Over 100 regularly in the summer months and don't believe it when someone says "yeah, but it's a dry heat." Heat is heat and over 100 it doesn't matter. The hottest place on earth is Death Valley with a recorded high of 134. It's in the middle of the desert. Things don't grow there. It is dry and blistering.

Now I'm on the east coast, in McKeesport, in my late Aunt Beryl's house, high above the Allegheny river. The sun is dripping from the sky, through clouds. It is sweltering, everything is damp, even when it should be dry. It is humid.

It's an interesting phenomenon, humidity. It sucks the life and moisture right out of you and deposits it into your hair. I have wavy hair that I can keep somewhat in line in California, but here, it's gone a bit haywire. It curls in unmanageable directions, flips out and then tries to pretend like there's nothing wrong. I had forgotten; I have remembered quickly. 

The air hangs; you can almost see it. Far off clouds gather steam and congregate, first thick and white, then tinged with anger. I watched them from the front stoop of Aunt Beryl's house today as I gazed down the steep, yellowed brick road. At the bottom of the street, only a couple hundred feet at the most, and over the trees, flows the black and brown of the Allegheny. A power boat pulled out from the trees and zoomed across the river, under the gathering humidity.

I knew it would rain again. Rain has a feel to it as it comes in. The air gets heavier; it smells thick and damp. Any breeze dies entirely before resurrecting itself to turn tree  leaves upside down and inside out. There is almost a whisper. The temperature rises ever so slightly.  Then it begins, sometimes in earnest, sometimes timid. The temperature drops and heat rises from the pavement like steam. My hair is curling just thinking about it.

It is humid. My hair may be curlier but my skin is less dry so that's good. In the house, the temp was probably 15 to 20 degrees hotter especially upstairs. There is no air conditioning; instead there are open windows and many fans. I spent time up in the attic, the highest and the hottest room in the house. I went through cupboards and closets and boxes, pulling out old photographs, birth certificates from an immediate family now, nearly a century later, gone.

I found dresses that I remembered my Aunt Eleanor wearing when I was a child. Pink checked light cotton, with a button down front. In those days, they were called housedresses. I don't know what they are called now, if anything. 

I found a portrait of my mother's grandfather in uniform, from World War I. I found one piece swim suits. I found dust and dirt and heat.

After awhile I had to go downstairs. It was simply too hot; too humid.

But today, from the front stoop looking out over the river to the gathering clouds to the stifling attic, I learned to love the humidity, even if just a little. Because once the clouds rained and the air cooled, it was a good day. It was actually lovely.

In which it is hot and I celebrate the first heat wave of the season

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 30, 2013 1:12 AM

I don’t believe that A. A. Milne, one of my favorite writers because of his devotion to a bear named Pooh, a small swine named Piglet, a morose donkey named Eeyore, a wise Owl, an irritating Rabbit, a bouncing Tigger and a boy named Christopher Robin, ever wrote about excessive temperatures. All of his wonderful characters lived in the Hundred Acre Wood, where they got into mischief, and supported each other, happily. Mr. Milne always started his chapters with the trope In Which. I always loved that and evidently I’m not alone. I see this phrase used a lot around the blogosphere as people describe something that is about to happen, thus moving the conversation forward.

In which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place. In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump. In which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One. In Which Piglet is Entirely Surrounded by Water.

I have to say, that after the last couple of days out here in the west, I’m envious of that little insecure pig in his striped shirt. To be surrounded by water when one is surrounded by crippling heat might be a good thing.

Which is why we are moving to the desert.

It was 102º today in the OP. Bobbi said it was 109º in the valley where they live. A friend of mine who lives in Scottsdale said it was 116º in the shade. The southwest is bathed in a heat wave and it has been sizzling for days. Can’t walk outside barefoot kind of sizzling. Feel your hair color evaporate kind of sizzling. In other words, warm.

Las Vegas was a balmy 117º while Phoenix hit 119º in the middle of the day, breaking a record that has stood since 1944. Much hotter and Sky Harbor will have to ground the planes. Something about not being able to get enough lift when it’s hot like this. I always thought it was because the planes sunk into the tarmac, emphasis on the word ‘tar.’

The appropriately named Death Valley was on track to hit 128º today. Death Valley, a barren but stunning piece of land far to the east of us, has the distinction of being the hottest place on earth, having once clocked a high temperature of 134º about a century ago.

It was hot and tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter. We like the heat but this kind of heat is rather oppressive. We also like to be outside and you can’t really do anything outside. The sun burns your skin the minute you leave the shade. I already mentioned about the hair color problem. It seems almost impossible to get enough water.

It was into this furnace that we ventured several times today, with a little boy in fur, as people came by to take a look at the house, which is currently for sale. We pulled up some shade where the temp dropped to a near-cool 99º maybe. We took water and a bowl for Cooper. Our real estate ladies were so worried about him that on their third trip to the house this afternoon they brought him a travel water bottle, a bottle that hooks into its own trough for easy dispensing, storing and sitting outside in the shade for 20 minutes or so when the temperatures are in the triple digits.

We like the heat. It’s why we’re moving to the desert. But liking the heat and understanding that it can be dangerous go hand-in-hand especially for dogs. I don’t worry so much about cats because they instinctively know how to find the safest, coolest place to be. Dogs just want to be with their people. But their pads can burn and get blistered if they’re on asphalt. Whenever I see someone walking their dog when it’s hot like this, I think they’re idiots. In Arizona, it is literally considered animal abuse, one of the few laws in Arizona I agree with.

Cooper and his dad (Kevin), in the shade

As the day progressed, the temperature remained constant. I thought about Piglet, surrounded by water. I thought about the introduction of new characters, In Which Kanga and Baby Roo Come to the Forest and Piglet has a Bath. More water. New characters in our lives are always good. We have new characters in the guise of our real estate ladies, Debbie and Hillary, sisters who love dogs and love our Cooper.

Tonight, after we’d gone to the store and the temp had dropped even further, down to the low 90s on its way to the high 80s and eventually into the 70s we finally took Cooper for a shortened walk. The sun was setting, bathing the neighborhood in shades of pink and peach and pomegranate. The birds were out, kids had ventured onto the street to skateboard, or play bad mitten, air conditioners clicked off and the world became more normal. It was an every day life in the OP.

It was hot today. Sizzling, oppressive, evaporative, feverish, devilish, blazing, blistering, broiling, scalding, sweltering. Tomorrow promises to be worse.

And that’s OK. We have each other, we have water, we have AC. When it’s hot, we’re ready to live it out loud anyway. But just in case, here, have some water. 

If you build it

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 6, 2013 8:23 PM

In his book Walden and Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “They can do without architecture who have no olives nor wines in the cellar.” It’s an odd quote, one that requires a twisting of the mind. When I encounter a quote like this, one that makes me wonder, I find myself saying it out loud, as if speaking it will somehow make it instantly understandable. Sometimes it works. My simplistic understanding of this quote is that if you don’t have stuff you don’t really need a place to keep it. If you are not encumbered by the accumulations of life, an elaborate dwelling, or any dwelling at all, is not necessary.

I have both olives in the pantry and wine in the cellar so I cannot really do without architecture. I also happen to be a very big fan of architecture, especially as it relates to homes. Most homes are gentle designs. By that I mean, mostly functional, not necessarily interesting though not at all boring. They are places to live, to decorate with family photographs, favorite posters and pieces of art, to arrange furniture, to paint and wallpaper, built for their inhabitants to cluster around the dinner table or the fireplace. They provide shelter; they are a place where we love our kids, our pets, our favorite television shows, each other. They are mostly non-descript. Pretty but ordinary. They are where we people with olives and wine live. They are homes.

We live in a small tract home in Southern California. It’s cute and meets all of the criteria just described. There are at least a dozen just like it – save for the exterior color and landscaping – all around us, dotted between other homes of which there are a dozen just like. We bought it back in 1997 because the school system here is great, one of the best in the state, and because it was what we could afford. The tract home is the affordable home. They are designed by someone but they are not unique, there is little attention paid to detail. They are cookie cutter designs; lots that are exactly the same. It’s inside where they come alive.

Real architecture is done by those hired to design and build custom homes and buildings. It’s a process that is nearly as old as man. The word itself is from the Latin architectura and the Greek arkhitekton meaning chief builder/carpenter/mason. It has come to describe the process of planning, designing and construction of a building. The best buildings are thought to be cultural symbols and even works of art. Architecture can be both a generic term, or something that infers a particular style or method of design. It encompasses everything from urban design and landscaping to construction details and even furniture. Since the internet became part of our daily lives, architecture is also now used to describe information technology.

Much like what we use our architecture for today, yesterday’s building evolved from need. Shelter, security, worship. In ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece architecture was used as a way to engage the supernatural. Witness the pyramids and the Parthenon. Building evolved from there, building its way toward structures like the Taj Mahal, Notre Dame in Paris, the castles of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the Paris Opera. Architects like Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Ieoh Ming Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright ushered in the era of modern architecture with their buildings like the Villa Savoye in France, the Seagram Building in New York, the controversial glass and steel pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, and Falling Water in rural Pennsylvania.

One of the worst remake movies ever filmed featured the re-teaming of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in The Lake House. Perhaps the only decent thing about it was that Reeves’ character was an architect and at one point in this rather dull and uninspiring romp, took Bullock’s character on a walking tour of some of his favorite buildings in Chicago. With his voice-over guiding her, she discovers the history and wonder of both monumental buildings and forgotten bungalows, of walls and bridges and water fountains. It shows the scope and the power that buildings and designs have to form our lives even as we form them.

I have long been fascinated with the art of designing and building buildings. It is so precise and yet so organic, so meticulous and still completely flowing and interpretive. I love to look at the angles, the height. When I find a building I truly love, I can sit in front of it for hours and stare. It talks to me somehow; it tells me stories, sings me lullabies, makes me want to know its history, its loves and its sorrow. My dream is to someday build a building – specifically a house – that tells me all of those things, tells me stories of my life to come, and especially tells me where I can put my olives and my wine. Hopefully it will be in a wine cellar built for us and only for us.

Some day.

Some day soon. 

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live out loud

Dreams of my ...

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 20, 2012 10:42 PM

On this late, groggy Saturday night, I’m reclined on the love seat in the great room, my slippered feet stretched out over the edge, my body wrapped up in sweatpants and an oversized flannel shirt. My laptop is on my lap, living up to its category, and I am listening to the sounds of sweet jazz and the remnants of rain, leaves heavy with moisture dripping down onto one another and finally to the ground. The skies are cloudy. From my perch I can’t see them but I can feel them, the heaviness of the sky invades the backyard and oozes in through the sliver of the sliding glass door that’s open and inviting the fresh damp air.

It’s been a long day. The grapes were pressed this morning and we now have nine gallons of syrah grape juice. The fermenter and various pieces of equipment are clean and stored; the juice sits in glass carboys on the workbench in the garage. It will sit there for several days before entering the next phase of its young life.

Once we returned from our pressing journey, we showered, changed and went out again for a phone bank for Organizing for America, calling people to urge them to continue their support of President Obama. My friend Connie went with us. For three hours we dialed phone numbers on provided sheets in the hopes of someone picking up on the other end to speak to us nicely, without malice of interruption, without having decided to vote to the right. It was an interesting atmosphere. The building we were in was a call center by trade. Each day, dozens of people sit at the same desks we occupied and call people to try to sell them, convince them, connive them into buying something they’re not sure they want or to support something they’re not sure of. The irony was not lost.

I found myself drifting into daydreams several times as I waited for someone to answer a number I had dialed. In my dreams, I saw the rolling desert of Tucson, covered with Saguaros as they reached for the sky, and Kevin and I in our new home, waiting for the wonder of an encroaching thunderstorm, enjoying the anonymity of our home on the hill. I saw my niece at her Halloween party last night, dressed as a flapper and enjoying herself with her girlfriends. I wondered what she looked like and sent a text to my sister between phone calls. She promised to send photos.

I let my mind wander to my family, so many of whom are no longer with me, with us, and I wondered how they would see the world these days. The anger, the resentment, the entitlement, the hope. My grandmother, my dad’s mom, who died in 2001 at 93. I wondered if she was a democrat and decided she probably was; she had been a teacher. My great aunt, my dad’s mom’s sister, who died just a couple of years ago, also in her 90s. I wondered how she saw the world when she was still in it. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, who died several years ago as well, at 91. I wondered if she had ever really enjoyed her life. I wondered if any of them had.

My thoughts drifted then to my dad, who died in 2002, and who would have absorbed the news of the day with hardly a mention of how it made him feel. I admired that in him, and yet, I think keeping all of that in – his joy, his anger, his hurt, his dreams – contributed to him dying at such a young age.

How had any of them dreamed of … ? Had they dreamed at all?

Today I dreamed of grapes and wine, of rain and wondrous gloom, of phone calls to strangers who became instant friends, albeit virtually, and co-conspirators in this 17 days until the election. I dreamed of spending time with friends, of sharing wine and cheese and politics and more wine and funny stories. I dreamed of my future and my past, of my father, my grandmothers, others lost, those still living and full of love. My mother, my sister, my niece and nephew, my brother; my son. I dreamed. They dream.

“With our eyes closed, we uttered the same words, but in our hearts we each prayed to our own masters; we each remained locked in our own memories; we all clung to our own foolish magic.”

The quote is from page 163 of the book Dreams from my father by Barack Obama. I don’t know if it’s foolish to dream or foolish not to. But I do believe in magic, and I will cling to it as long as I have dreams.

On this Saturday night when the weather is drifting and the air is chilled and fine, I am dreaming of so much.

I am dreaming of … 

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