Save the wine. Save the trip.

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 20, 2017 10:15 PM

A week ago today we went to California. We dropped Riley at the pet resort, a nicety that he didn’t seem to appreciate at all, and then peddled our way across the desert. We did this last summer, too. It’s become a new tradition. We go twice a year now, the other time being for Thanksgiving. Both trips involve Roy and Bobbi and a house we all rent together. For the summer trip, we always stay in LA overnight on Thursday, then get up to drive the remaining three hours to Paso on Friday morning. At Thanksgiving, we stay for four nights. During the summer, just two.

We arrived at our hotel just after 5, took a shower and then met Roy and Bobbi for dinner on the lake in Westlake Village. It was a lovely way to start our long weekend. 

By Friday at 11, we were at Rabbit Ridge, on the north west side of Paso. It’s one of our favorites and we’re members, as we are of at least five wineries in the area. Normally when we go wine tasting, we explore mostly new ones – wineries we haven’t yet visited – while also hitting maybe one or three of our favorites. This trip, Kevin decided it might be fun to do a greatest hits tour. So we were only going to visit our favorites, ones we’d already visited, ones where either we were members or Roy and Bobbi were. 

For the next two days we visited places like Zenaida and Niner, Barr, Sculpterra and Vina Robles. We close every wine tasting trip at Vina Robles. They have a members-only lounge where they have comfortable couches, pour all the wine you want and then some, and even serve gourmet appetizers. It’s probably the best wine in Paso, and while we always worry that one time it will finally disappoint us, it never does. 

We bought seven plus cases of wine on our trip. We had great conversations with great friends. We ate well; we slept well. We had fun. 

On Sunday morning, Kevin and I packed up the Sport and left at 6:30 a.m. We had an 11 hour drive ahead of us and we wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. Kevin drove the first part, just until we got to Calabasas where we were going to stop and get coffee and something to eat. I had a bit of writing to do that I needed to finish before the end of the day, so it worked well. I took over in Calabasas, and off we sped, across the Valley, through Burbank and Glendale, into Pasadena and then off into the desert. 

Before we left Arizona, Kevin and I had both noticed that the Sport’s AC didn’t seem to be as cool as it was before. We took it to the dealer and asked them to check it, telling them that we would be driving through the desert in July and really would need our air conditioning. They assured us that it was blowing cold; that all was good. 

And it was. It was fine on the trip on Thursday. It was great all through Paso Robles, and it was hot in Paso. High 90s/low 100s. And it was fine early on Sunday. But then, it seemed to get warmer in the car. We kept turning the temp down on the climate control and nothing happened. It became clear that the AC had stopped working at an optimum level. While it was still cooler in the car than outside, it was not comfortable. It was not right. And it was cooking our wine. 

Wine does not like to be in warm temperatures. It prefers about 58º, which is what our wine room is set to. On Sunday, we were hell and gone from that room. We got cranky, we started to fight. We knew that riding through the entire desert and into more desert would ruin the seven plus cases we had in the back. 

So, after screaming and yelling at each other, we exited the freeway in Blythe, California, a lovely hole of a town that we refer to as Blight, found a rite-aid and proceeded to buy five Styrofoam coolers and several bags of ice. In the parking lot, under intense sun, and horrendous heat, we opened our cases, distributed the wine into the coolers, poured ice over each, reloaded them into the back of the care, disposed of the broken case boxes, and climbed back into the Sport. I fired up the ignition. And voila, the AC was working.

Still, we saved the wine. Because if we hadn’t, it would have ruined the trip. We celebrated rite-aid last week, something we’ve never done previously and not sure we’ll do again, but they were there when we needed them. And when the wine needed them. And for that, we were and are very, very, very happy.

Twas the day after Christmas

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 26, 2016 6:07 PM

And all through the casa, not a human was stirring, not even Mufasa. You’ll have to pardon my lack of creativity but a) I’m tired and 2) I’m a big fan of Mufasa, always have been and it’s the only thing I could think of that rhymed with casa. We’re tired today, exhausted really. We had a lovely day yesterday, filled with Facetime and texts and presents and mimosas and coffee and coffee cake and stockings. And then we cleaned everything up – including ourselves – in order to prepare for guests and dinner. Said guests arrived just after five, in time for sunset, and the festivities began anew.

Roy and Bobbi are here, of course. It’s our third Christmas with them, here in the desert; the second in the new house. I think they enjoy coming; I hope they do. I know it’s always hard to be away from home and life, but we so look forward to them being here. We live well together, all of us. There’s never really an agenda. We sit around working or playing on our computers or texting with our phones. We listen to music, we eat good food and drink great wine. It’s always lovely. 

Ric and Jane joined us last night for dinner. They’re new friends, who live here most of the year. For the three summer months, they live in Michigan. They bought a house west of here and had it remodeled. It’s actually how we met them. Our architect had used us as a referral when they contacted him about perhaps doing their house. Jane and I hit it off on the phone and the next time they were in town, they came to the house to see in person what Mike had done. They didn’t end up hiring him but, as we like to joke, they “hired” us. We’ve all become friends. They’re from Chicago, and they’re rabid democrats. They like good food and good wine. We get along wonderfully. 

Kevin and I made prime rib. I made twice-bake potatoes, and asparagus with a touch of lemon juice and blue cheese crumbles. We had martinis and wine and talked politics and therapy, there being no real correlation between the two other than the obvious. 

They left and the four of us sat in front of the fire for a few minutes before going to bed. We were tired, and sated with too much good food and good wine. At 3 am, a smoke detector decided its battery needed to be changed, this one right outside of the guest room. Annoying, tiring, and requiring a ladder. Kevin changed it out, and while he and I got back to sleep OK, Roy and Bobbi didn’t sleep well at all. I felt horrible all day because of that. I know that I didn’t make the 3 am chirp happen and that it’s one of those random house things that happens to everyone. But still. You like to have guests be able to rest and relax when they’re in your home. Ours have only been able to do so sporadically. I feel bad. 

Today we went out to a healthy lunch then to a shop Bobbi likes. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home so that I could get stuff to make chicken and mushrooms with asiago gravy, mashed potatoes and baby French carrots. Comfort food. 

When we walked into the house, the same smoke alarm was once again chirping. We’re hoping it was just a defective battery, and not that there’s something more nefarious going on. Kevin got the ladder once again while I retrieved Riley whose back legs where shaking with fear. He doesn’t understand the loud and piercing chirp; it scares him. 

We replaced the battery again with the last of our 9 volts, and while Bobbi when to take a much-needed nap, the boys trucked back down the hill to Ace Hardware to get a fresh supply of batteries. We’ve decided we’re just going to change the batteries in all of the detectors that haven’t yet beeped so that maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to get a few years in before we’re once again, rudely awakened by beep.

We’re tired. We’re Christmas-ed out. Tonight we relaxed, Roy and Bobbi, Kevin and I, and our own Mufasa, king of the house, who spent the latter part of the day hiding behind the bathtub, cowering out loud.

A traditional Christmas

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 24, 2016 8:36 PM

When we were growing up, my mother always worried that we weren’t having a traditional Christmas. We rarely had any extended family; it was usually just the five of us, plus the dog. She would make cookies, seemingly for weeks, putting them in the freezer. Pecan tassies, apricot twists, thumbprints. She was a phenomenal baker.

When we lived in New York, we had a split-level ranch, and one tree. It was in the living room and on Christmas morning we’d all gather around on the shag carpeting and open presents. When we moved to New England, we had a kid’s tree in the family room and my mother’s tree in the living room. That tree, all white and gold, with garland, glass ornaments, white and gold “space balls”, glass icicles, and white and gold and red birds, was the tree under which all of the packages went. On Christmas morning, we’d gather in there and open presents, one at a time. It was her way of making sure that everyone was involved, and that Christmas wasn’t over in a flash of flying wrapping paper, bows and string. 

She would sit on the couch and watch, collecting wrapping paper that she would dutifully fold for use next year. She did the same with bows. And then it was over. And she was always a little down. Years later, we talked about it and she said that one of the reasons she felt that way was because she had convinced herself that everyone else had a more traditional Currier and Ives kind of Christmas, with extended family gathered around and everyone making merry. Then she found out that no body actually had that; that the paintings and prints were fantasies made of snow and sleighs. 

For the longest time, I was often down at Christmas, too, especially because I was away from my family. But then, I too, realized that there really isn’t a traditional Christmas. The traditions are yours and your family’s to make. Kevin and Justin and I, along with Maguire, made our own. We would get up, just the four of us, on Christmas morning and with a nod to how we did things as a kid, we’d open packages one at a time. Justin was in charge of picking out presents for everyone, and he was always so good about waiting. He actually seemed to enjoy the process. Maguire would lay on the floor and watch everyone. We’d give him one of his toys and he’s chew for a bit, then, keeping it close, return to watching. After presents were opened, but before stockings, we’d all go to the kitchen. Kevin would pour coffee and we’d make Justin some hot chocolate. I’d put the cinnamon coffee cake I made every Christmas into the oven, then we’d all go back into the great room to open stockings. 

Because we live west and away from immediate family, we long ago created our own western version. We’d spend Christmas late afternoon into the evening with Roy and Bobbi and Diane and Gene and whoever else. We’d make a great meal, open more presents and enjoy each other’s company. On the 26th, we always went wine tasting. It was tradition, and a great way to extend the holiday.

Today I baked cookies. We listened to Christmas music and wrapped presents. We gathered in the great room, the five of us – Roy and Bobbi and Kevin and I and Riley – and we huddled around the fire as a cold storm blew in. It’s the new tradition, having Roy and Bobbi here with us in the desert. It’s the third year they’ve come, and it’s lovely. We went out to dinner, listened to some jazz and came back to once again gather around the fire and listen to music.  

I’ve decided that traditions are anything you want them to be, anything you make them. There’s no right or wrong tradition. There’s no Currier and Ives, except on paper. We are our own Currier and Ives. We do our best to embrace those we love, both near and far. We wish for snow and accept rain and cold. We eat cookies and drink wine and enjoy each other, always. It’s what traditions are made of. 

Wishing all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, and more. Feliz Navidad from the all of us in the desert where we’re celebrating out loud.

What vacation

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 27, 2016 7:21 PM

It always amazes me how quickly we return to our regularly scheduled lives, already in progress. We spent the last three full days in Paso Robles, on California’s central coast, cooking, visiting, hanging out, and of course, tasting wine. We arrived on Wednesday at 3 having left Tucson at the ridiculous hour of 4:30 am. We wanted to beat the traffic, or at least as much of it as possible, and for the most part we did. It got a little cranky as we made our way through Pasadena, and then again through Ventura along the coast but once we got past that snark and hiccup, we were fairly flying. 

We met Roy and Bobbi, our partners in all things wine, on the side of the road at the Vineyard exit. We hugged, and then we drove the rest of the way to the rental house, caravanning. Thus the adventure began. On Thursday, we went to one winery – believe it or not, four were open – and bought some wine for Thanksgiving. We cooked and had a meal that made us all want to curl up in a ball and sleep for a week. Luckily more wineries awaited on Friday and Saturday. 

We went to new places, as we always do, and found at least one new favorite in Ranchita Canyon. It’s small. But they make some lovely rich, dark reds. Reds with attitude. The kind of wine that puts hair on your chest. Our kind of wine. We bought a case and joined their wine club which gave us an automatic 25% off the case price. And because it was Black Friday, they were having everyone who purchased spin their wheel of fortune wheel for an additional percentage off. Yes, it was cheesy. But when I spun for an additional 25%, I didn’t think it was so dumb after all. 

We went to Rabbit Ridge and Graveyard, Villa San Juliette and J & J and Four Sisters. We bought wine at several and skipped the others. We went to our old favorites and proverbial stomping grounds: Niner, Vina Robles, Sculpterra. We tried another new winery on Saturday, Turley. A beautiful facility that specializes in Zinfandel. We’re not huge fans of Zin. Luckily they also had two Petite Sirahs.

And then, this morning came. Again, early, though not as bad as Wednesday. We got up close to 5:30 and after throwing some clothes on and brushing our teeth, hit the road for the long ride to Tucson just before 6. We wanted to beat the traffic, and we did, for the most part. After 10.5 hours, we pulled up our drive and into the garage. Home. 

We unloaded our six plus cases of assorted wines, as well as our suitcases. We unpacked quickly and put the suitcases away. The wine still waits outside the wine room door for entrance and sorting. We took showers, I started laundry. And now, as I type this, it’s just before 8 pm. I’m on my computer, working (and blogging). Kevin is at the eat-at bar, checking email. The football game is on. We settled back into our routines quickly and easily. Tomorrow, work begins with a vengeance. In some ways, it’s like the vacation never happened.

But it did, and as always, I am grateful. For friends, for wine; for great rental houses, for fun menus. For life. Let the holidays begin.

108 miles and not yet to Phoenix

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 23, 2016 6:48 AM

The first thing that happened was a text message at 12:17 am. We're selling our old artificial Christmas tree on Craig's List for $35 and there is evidently a desire for a six-foot tree in great condition. We didn't answer it because technically we were sleeping and conducting business regarding a used tree at that time of the morning/night is obscene.

At 3:15 I heard the hiss and snarl of the coffee maker as it finished brewing the 12 cups I'd asked it to make last night when we went to bed. I rolled over and clutched my pillow, balling it up under my head and snuggled in.

At 3:23 Kevin's alarm went off, a melodic song that always reminds me of Japan. He likes to set his alarm for strange times for reasons that I've never fully understood and he's never fully explained. I think he just likes to think he's being unpredictable. He sat up, reached for the phone and the chime was silenced.

At 3:30 my alarm went off, a chipper sound that belied the time of day. My ring tone for the alarm is more like a xylophone and way to happy for such an early hour. I sat up, turned it off, yawned, and said I miss my dog. 

Riley is in the kennel. We took him yesterday afternoon about 4:00. We've never left him in a kennel before. Last year, we left him at our vet's office. They board a very small number of animals and while it was fine, we didn't like that he was cooped up in a small room with no way to get outside to pee or poop. He had to wait for someone to come walk him. This year, we made a reservation at a traditional kennel with indoor/outdoor runs and we fretted about it the whole time. About a week and a half ago, Kevin stopped at another place near us, took a tour and came home to announce it was probably the nicest kennel he'd ever seen, also with indoor/outdoor runs. Plus the dogs are taken out into a little park type area every day to romp and play and sniff. Naturally they were booked but they put us on a waiting list. Yesterday, at about 11, they called. They had a cancellation and now had a run for Riley. It's a veterinary center which we like because our boy has anxiety issues. If something were to happen, if he gets too upset, they can help him. He was a nervous wreck when we took him in. It broke both of our hearts. We pick him up Monday morning. Until then, I'll call every day.

By 4:29, we pulled away from the house, the Sport loaded with suitcases and coolers. We reset the trip counter on the dash and started on our journey. We had a full tank of gas and hoped to average 22 miles per gallon. We didn't buy this car for its fuel efficiency. Last night Kevin checked all the fluids and the air in the tires. We scrubbed the windshield inside and out. We prepared.

It was dark and cold. The temp on the dash read 42. By the time we turned onto Catalina Highway it had dropped to 39 and a little snowflake appeared next to the numbers, the car's way of telling us it could snow soon. I reached over and turned on my seat warmer. Might as well have a hot butt, especially since we were both in shorts. At least I wore a sweatshirt.

The journey up the 10, then west through the desert and finally north along the ocean is 715 miles. 10 hours. 

The headlights lit our way. Kevin turned on the driving lights, too. Tonight we'll be in Templeton, just south of Paso Robles. We'll have pizza and wine. We'll sit outside by the fire pit or inside next to the fire. It's supposed to be cold there too. 

But first we needed to get to Phoenix. Phoenix always seems like the official launching pad. When we come home, it always signifies the start of the final leg.

I looked over at the dash. 108 miles. I could see the lights of Phoenix sparkling ahead. Ready, set, go for vacation.

Riley and Bobbi have the best yawn noises. Kevin says Riley wins.

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 30, 2016 9:20 PM

My husband is a yawner but a silent yawner. He almost always yawns in the car, but only when I’m driving. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is though it is more pronounced later in the afternoon and especially after we’ve seen a movie. The only sound he really makes is a little bit of a huff at the end as he pushes the air out of his lungs and finally closes his mouth. I tease him about it because I’ve never been much of a yawner. He’s like a little kid. Justin was always a yawner in the car, too. He also almost always fell asleep in the car when he was little.

I yawn only when I am beyond exhaustion. I yawn so seldom that when I do, Kevin stops and looks at me: “Did you just yawn?” The fact that he has to comment on it tells you all you need to know.

But nobody yawns better than Bobbi, who is also very proficient at it when in the car. Last Christmas, when we were on our way to Bisbee, and she was in the back of the Sport, the yawns were prolific, announced with vigor and finesse, an exhale accompanied by a high exclaim. Every time she did it, we’d laugh. We had never heard someone get so much volume and pleasure from a single yawn. We were impressed.

Enter Riley who is quite the yawner/stretcher/squealer. His noises are always fascinating and funny. None of our other dogs have had any particular noises other than what you’d expect from a dog. Maguire would growl with his toys and bark at the squirrels in the backyard. When he stood at the front door and decided we needed to be told about something in particular that may or may not have been of concern, he barked three times. Woof, woof (pause), woof. I don’t remember Cooper being much of a barker, though he did occasionally growl at his toys. 

And then there’s Riley. He is much more vocal. If he wants you to play with him, he’ll bring a toy (a “guy”) over, and drop it near you. Then he’ll back up, drop his ears and issue a guttural challenge. It’s pretty funny. When he bounds outside in the morning, usually with Wubba, he does so with gusto, whipping it back and forth and growling to great fanfare. 

In the early mornings, though, it’s the yawns that make us laugh. He starts by coming to one side of the bed or the other. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern; it’s simply whoever he deciphers as being awake first. He then lays his head on the mattress next to whoever, and as soon as his presence is acknowledged with eyes opening, the tail begins to wag. As we lean over to pet him, he then presses his whole body against the bed for a full length rub. 

But when we get up, the true fun begins. He backs up to allow us room to exit said bed. And then once we’re up, he stretches his front legs and paws out in front of him as far as he can, pushing his head and neck down and his butt up into the air. And while he manages this acrobatic act, he yawns, opening his mouth up as wide as possible so that we can practically look down his throat and see his tail. And then, he issues this high pitched squeal that we’re convinced will someday shatter glass. Then his jaw snaps closed and he pushed himself back up so that he’s completely standing, and he air snaps. Come on! Let’s go! 

This happens over the course of several minutes, several times, as we get ready for a walk.

So in the battle for who has the best yawn noises, we have to give it to Riley, probably also because of the stretch and the butt. Maybe if Bobbi could perfect that, she might be back in the running. I’ll have to talk to her.

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The worrier

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 17, 2016 9:00 PM

Women are born to worry. I think it stems from our roles as mothers, the givers of life, the nurturers, the caretakers. It’s primal. Maybe you don’t have human children. Maybe you only have four-legged kids. It doesn’t matter. The urge to take care of them is one that can’t be denied. It can keep you up all night. It can destroy you emotionally. It can also give you the greatest highs. 

And it can make you live longer. 

According to Dr. Nigel Barber who writes The Human Beast for Psychology Today, “there are few gender differences more reliable that women’s penchant for worrying.” He attributes it to anxiety to which I roll my eyes and sigh and say “no shit Sherlock.” But he goes further by saying that anxiety and worry can actually lead to a long and healthy life. If that’s the case, I should live to be about 127.

I worry. I wouldn’t say it’s compulsive; it’s more situational and sometimes cyclical. When I sold my townhouse, as Kevin and I were getting ready to move into the Oak Park house, I suffered through a horrific bout of insomnia, at least by my standards. I’ve never had a problem sleeping. In fact, I love to sleep. Insomnia is a particularly cruel thing to do to a person who loves and luxuriates in sleep. I went to my doctor at the time, desperate for help. He gave me Ambien, something I absolutely do not recommend, and told me that it would probably go away as soon as all the house stuff was resolved. He was kind of a jerk but he ended up being correct. Once both houses closed and we moved in, I slept just fine. 

Most of the anxiety that keeps me up these days is more financial. I think most people can relate. We’re fine; we make a good living. And yet I worry, especially when clients are late in paying and I’m watching the accounts dwindle because our mortgage company doesn’t like the excuse of “sorry but so and so hasn’t paid me yet so I can’t pay you.” Every once in a while, and thankfully rarely in all my years as a freelancer, I suffer through a bit of a lull. And so I worry. My mind bounces from who can I contact to see if they need any words to how much money I have in the rainy day savings to what happens if the market crashes and the money we have in our several retirement accounts is affected like it was in 2008 and we’re not as young as we were then and don’t have as many years left to replenish what could be lost and we have this house and a mortgage and what about health insurance.

See what I mean? 

For some reason, all of this worry manifests at night, and usually sometime around 3 am. I wake up and that’s it. My brain which had obviously be idling while I was sleeping kicks into gear and suddenly I go from zero to 90 miles per hour traveling all around the financial universe and back again. 

I’m busy with work now. Very busy. Wonderfully so. We have several new projects that will get going in the next couple of weeks. I have others that are ongoing. My career is strong; I love what I do. Still I worry, and the last couple of nights have been horrible. I know why: Lawrence O’Donnell. 

This election is killing me. I am absolutely, manifestly terrified of what’s going to happen. I don’t think either of the main candidates are great. I can’t imagine either one of them actually as president. When I watched Michelle Obama’s speech at George Mason University yesterday and when I listen to President Obama, I am filled with overwhelming dread. I have always been and remain so proud to have these two representing our country. Smart, funny, comfortable in their own skin, they have steered the country well, in spite of tremendous odds and horrendous flak. I will miss them. If the 22nd amendment could be repealed I would vote for him again without hesitation. 

I believe that of the two current choices Hillary will make a better president. I am under no illusions that everything will be wonderful or that she’ll be able to do all that she wants. But I also don’t think she’ll cause untoward destruction. I do believe that with The Donald. And yet, he is closing in the polls, pulling ahead in certain states, and I watch Rachel Maddow and then I watch Lawrence, after reading about this crap all day long, and I am filled with fear and anxiety and worry about my career, our savings, the stock market, our house, the mortgage and what about health insurance.

Dr. Barber says that while women are much less likely to die in car accidents we are more vulnerable to anxiety disorders and chronic and clinical depression. I know the source of my anxiety and right now, while I’m situationally down, I don’t believe I’m depressed, chronically or clinically. My sister and my closest friend might offer a different diagnosis since they’re both psychologists. I’m just a worrier, and since I’m convinced that the last thing I watch before going to bed, one Mr. O’Donnell, is one of the sources of my worry, I’m going to stop. Maybe watch a nice slasher movie, or a particularly vile episode of Law & Order: SVU instead. Something not real because reality, right now, is killing me. Death, dismemberment and other atrocities, conversely, should help me sleep just fine.

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A theory on being social

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 13, 2016 7:37 PM

“Look at you being social!” That was the text I got from my sister a couple of weeks ago. She had asked me what we were doing for the weekend and we had plans to meet another couple for dinner on that Saturday night. A week later, we did it again, meeting some other friends. Then last weekend. And now this weekend. To which my sister can only text: “Again? Wow!” 

I am not a social creature by nature. I like my people-time limited, or at least I used to. I was perfectly content in California to have Roy and Bobbi come on Friday nights for Fritini. Sometimes Diane would join us; occasionally, when he was in town, Gene would, too. On rare occasions, we had another join us as well. We would sit on the patio, drink martinis and eventually uncork a bottle of wine and then another as we had dinner. Knowing that we had Fritini and knowing that Roy and Bobbi would be there nearly every Friday was all the social I needed. It became the punctuation at the end of the week. No matter what had transpired, good, bad or otherwise, Friday we could relax and talk and share and bitch and moan. We could all be together. 

Then we moved. And my people-time became nearly non-existent. I didn’t realize how much those Fridays truly meant until we didn’t have them anymore. I knew I would miss them; I just didn’t know how much. Suddenly, here we were, in a town that we love but where we didn’t know anyone. It became very important for me to find a way to meet people; to make friends. 

Diane always says you can’t make old friends and she’s absolutely right. It’s impossible to have new people in your life who know all of the history that the ones who have been around longest know. And still want to be in your life.

I do believe, though, that you can make new friends and begin a new journey. You still have the friends you’ve had forever; you still talk to them; still consider them family; the best friends. New friends are the new friends that might someday also become old friends.  

I realized after we’d been here a year or so that much like dating, making new friends has to be an organic experience. It just has to happen. It can’t be planned. It can only be a lovely surprise. Once I came to that realization, we started making more friends. We have new friends who are moving here from Chicago. I have several girlfriends that I meet for lunch or a glass of wine every once in a while, one I knew back in high school, another that I met when I took a pottery class, another who is in the dog rescue group that brought us Riley. We have become friends with the woman who was our real estate agent a long time ago. She and her husband are wonderful and we have so much fun with them. And we’ve become social with several of the couples who live here in our neighborhood. One of them is coming for dinner tonight.

So here’s my theory. When you have friends that you see regularly, you take that for granted. Because it’s easy and always fun. Because they’re there. And when they’re not, you realize how much having people to share an evening with, to share a meal with, a bottle or two of wine with, means. I think that’s why we’ve suddenly become social. Because people are better than no people. 

I’m enjoying our newfound social status, tremendously. I’m enjoying our new friends, and look forward to them becoming old friends. Roy and Bobbi and Diane and Gene remain our dearest friends, always, but I now know that, like jello, there is always room for more.

“Look at you being social again!” my sister tested yesterday. I am and we are. And we’re loving every minute of it.

Something about sitting in an Adirondack chair looking out over rolling hills and vineyards

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 18, 2016 6:52 PM

We took our coffee, the first of the morning, and went to sit. The trees were rustling in the breeze, birds were arguing good-naturedly, somewhere a tractor did what tractors do. I heard a dog bark. From inside the house, music. It might have been Eva Cassidy. I found out later it was someone named Lisa Tingle. Roy has a great collection of music. He is our designated disc jockey.

A lizard squirted by, black and scaly, a miniature version of an alligator. 1:100 in scale. Probably more. Or less.

Kevin was walking in the field below though it wasn't much of a field anymore. It's been plowed and staked. New vines will be going in soon. Ever the would-be vintner, he was looking for tips, maybe for validation. He had a cup of coffee with him. A hawk soared above.

Roy was off somewhere taking pictures. Bobbi was still in bed. I was sitting in the back. I had turned one of the old, weathered and nearly broken Adirondack chairs toward the sun, feeling it warm my legs.

This is a different house for us. The past two trips, we've stayed in a two-bedroom guest house in the J & J Vineyards. We fell in love with the space, with sitting out on the porch in the morning, having coffee, overlooking the vineyards. Kevin and I often were up before Roy and Bobbi and we’d go for a walk. Last November, it was cold. We walked anyway, crunching through the vineyard, finding passed-over clusters of grapes. Cold.

But that house, for whatever reason, isn't available anymore. We had to find something new, equally interesting and obviously different. When you get used to a place and really like it, it's harder to change. Bobbi and I want back and forth, comparing places, locations, amenities, and finally decided on Homestead Hill off of Kiler Canyon. We arrived last night near 6 pm. It's definitely different, atop a hill rather than snuggled in and amongst vines. I didn't like it at first; I was disappointed. I don't know why. I think just because it’s new and different.

We made dinner; we relaxed. We went to bed. The windows were open in our rooms. We listened to the crickets and the quiet of the night. We felt the cool air drift over us. We woke up to the birds and the rustling leaves.

I sat with my coffee in my Adirondack chair, my feet on the edge of the dormant fire pit, peering out at the world through my Maui Jims. It had been cool when I came out but the sun started to warm the day. A heat wave starting. It will be all over the west. 

The house is growing on me.

The sun was comforting, comfortable, the day just beginning; beckoning. The vineyards glistened next to the dried brush. It was glorious. A perfect morning beginning a perfect day.

Sitting in an Adirondack chair.

Things that happened

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 31, 2015 3:09 PM

It seems like just a year ago it was snowing. I ran to the window every 15 minutes or so, like a kid, watching and waiting for the flakes to begin. When they did, I squealed with delight. Yes, squealed. It set the tone for 2015 and I was ready. 

We started the snowy year filled with anxiety and anticipation. Our house was nearing completion and Roy’s gallery opening was looming. We had hoped to be in by the end of January but we were still finishing, still tiling, still shopping for lights and mirrors and accoutrements. Cooper started to get sick and the vet kept insisting it was Valley Fever when it wasn’t. He put him on prednisone and it seemed to perk him right up. But it would be short lived. 

February came and went and we began to worry. We booked movers. We had Roy’s show coming up and we needed a house for the party we were throwing. We pressured Mike and he gave a date that was soon moved back. We simply weren’t finished. We paid a point and a half on our loan because we hadn’t converted from construction to residential. Tick tock went the clock.

Finally March, a move in, a show, a party and the loss of our beloved Cooper. I’ll never forget how sick he was just a week before the move. How he seemed to get better and then how he went completely down hill. I remember being frustrated with him and hating myself for it. There was so much going on and I needed him to be better because I didn’t have time to worry. But I did worry. And then he died on March 29, the day after Roy’s opening. 

We were in the house. Now came the task of putting it all together, and then the realization that a new house didn’t actually mean there was nothing to do. Quite the contrary. Project after project materialized. Some were completed; most were not. Works in progress. Projects in progress. 

Riley arrived on April 27 because I simply could not fathom living here without a dog. It was always supposed to be for the three of us. Our beautiful boy, whose name is still attached to the area on the side of the house where Riley pees and poops. The Cooper area. He never got to use it but Riley makes up for that every day. 

We experienced our first monsoon up here, watching the sky turn green and fly toward us at breakneck speed. Torrential rain, fierce winds. One day, a microburst that hurled our furniture across the deck, breaking one of our Adirondack chairs. 

Visitors came, two by two. Kevin’s brother and sister-in-law, people I’d never spent any time with in the 20 years he and I have been together. What fun we had. Roy and Bobbi. Diane and Gene. Justin, who walked in and stood in the foyer. “Holy shit.” My sister came in July; my mother and aunt in November. We made new friends and missed our old ones. Wished they could always be here with us.

There was travel to Los Angeles, a road trip to Paso Robles. Wine tasting, cooking. Volunteer work and work work.

Birthdays, anniversaries, phone calls and Face Time, face time and emails, text messages. New iPhones, new iPads, a new computer for me.

Tick tock goes the clock. Ever forward.

Older, wiser. Some days happier, some days curious. Other days wondering did we do the right thing? So much change, so much. 

We end the year with high clouds and cold temperatures. No snow, not even rain in the forecast. We’ll light a fire and sit near the glow of the Christmas tree on this last night of the year. We’ll remember all we’ve accomplished, all we’ve celebrated, and what we’ve lost, what we’ve had to give up, the people we always miss, and we’ll toast to each. Happy 2015. And welcome a brand spankin’ new 2016. Let’s take it out for a ride and see what it can do.

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