Emotional strength defined

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 6, 2014 11:19 PM

I was perusing Facebook this morning, as I often do as I prepare to meet the day. I don’t tend to post much, nor do I comment. I occasionally “like” something, and it often has to do with dogs. My entire Facebook page is filled with liked pages featuring dogs, wine and politics, in that order. My friends tend to be a bit more diverse. This morning, friend Lisa J posted a link to a site called Elite Daily.

Elite Daily is the voice of Generation Y, and was “created out of a growing discontentment with antiquated media publications mandating that news coverage be presented in a dull, one-dimensional manner. The Elite Daily ethos is centered on reader engagement and fostering a true, unique connection with [their] readership through a platform that facilitates discussion rather than blandly presenting news. Elite Daily’s founding members grew tired of consuming disingenuous content and created a highly-engaging, social content platform that would radically change and redefine the meaning of a media publication, with millennial voices speaking directly to their fellow members of Gen-Y who share a similar passion for informative content.”

Generation Y is the generation born between 1977 and 1994, people who came of age between 1998 and 2006. There are approximately 71 million of them. They are much more racially and ethnically diverse and much more segmented as an audience due to the rapid expansion in Cable TV channels, satellite radio, the Internet, e-zines, tablets and smart phones.

Many Gen Y kids, as they’re often called, were raised in dual income homes and were more involved in family purchases – everything from groceries to new cars – than generations previous. Generation Ys are also called Echo Boomers or Millenniums.

I am not Generation Y, not even close, but Justin is. Much of the description, as applied to him, is right on the money.

The article today, written by Yers, is geared toward his generation but is applicable to all. It was entitled: 15 things that emotionally strong people don’t do. I was intrigued enough to click and read, since I consider myself to be emotionally strong and wondered if I was right.

Emotions are our greatest motivators. Unfortunately, they can motivate us to act in any direction, even the wrong one. That’s why emotional strength is essential. The article listed some of the situations that emotionally strong people avoid and certain actions they never take.

  1. They don’t beg for attention
  2. They don’t allow others to bring them down
  3. They don’t hold grudges
  4. They never stop doing their own thing
  5. They never stop believing in themselves
  6. They don’t act like jerks
  7. They’re particular about who they let into their lives
  8. They aren’t afraid to love
  9. They don’t dread the day ahead
  10. They’re not afraid of slowing down
  11. They don’t do things they don’t want to do
  12. They have no problem saying “no”
  13. They don’t ever forget to give back
  14. They don’t feel the need to fit in
  15. They don’t forget that happiness is a decision

I actively try to follow those 15 things. I didn’t always, but I do now. I think it’s easier as you get older and naturally develop more confidence in the world around you, and thus more confidence in yourself.

I particularly like the last item on the list. It’s something I’ve long believed, that happiness is a decision you make for yourself, and if you choose to be happy, most of the other emotional aspects of life fall into place as they should.

All this wisdom from kids young enough to be my son. Which leads me to a  potential #16. Never stop learning, even from a younger generation, because they will be the next ones to live it out loud. 

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live out loud

A hero is more than just a sandwich

by Lorin Michel Thursday, January 16, 2014 9:16 PM

In 1986 I read a book called A hero is more than just a sandwich. It was by a woman named Sonya Friedman, a psychotherapist, and her premise was simple and completely contained in the title of the book. Heroes used to be the name given to a submarine sandwich, a long roll with layers of veggies, meats, cheeses and dressing. It tasted good. But a real hero, in Friedman’s analysis, a man, also did good.

Sandwiches were invented by the Earl of Sandwich who started putting meat between two pieces of bread for a snack as a way to eat during his all-day gambling sessions. Super sandwiches are often called subs or hoagies or grinders; subs because they look like submarines. They were started in New London, Connecticut around World War II. The city was home to the Navy’s primary submarine base and a shipbuilding yard. One story has the big sandwich being invented by an Italian shopkeeper named Benedetto Capaldo who made about 500 a day. Another story has a restaurant advertising submarine sandwiches to take out, in Wilmington, Delaware.

The term hero began with a woman named Clementine Paddleworth who wrote a food column for the New York Herald Tribune in 1936, talking about a sandwich so large “you had to be a hero to eat it.”

I remember my dad making subs when I was a kid. I doubt he knew the origin of the name, nor would he have cared. He just wanted the sandwich and when dad was making a sub, it was a special day. I have no idea why. Perhaps it was because my mother did most of the cooking, as most mothers did in those days (and probably still do). My dad made fours things that I can remember: Scrambled eggs (the secret is always to put in a little bit of milk), ham salad (he had this horrible big grinding contraption that he used to secure to the side of the table and put pieces of ham, pickles, and onions through it), cocktail sauce (with ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire, Tabasco) and his world-famous subs.

He would take the longest roll and carefully slice it in half, long ways, laying both sides out, cut side up, on the counter. Then he would take everything that he had bought at the supermarket out of the fridge. At least two if not three types of lunchmeat (my dad was big on lunch meat), and several types of cheese, as well as dressing and veggies. He would start by putting some miracle whip on each side of the bread, then he’d begin layering the different meats and cheeses on one side. He’d slice an onion very thin and place that, along with sliced tomatoes. I think he drizzled Italian dressing over the top, but I could be mis-remembering. A little salt and pepper. When he was done, he’d take the side of the bread that only had the dressing and place it on top of everything else, squish it down a little, then slice it into more edible sizes. Serve.

I would sit at the table or stand off to the side and watch the process. It took at least 10 minutes or so; probably more. He was always so happy when he was making one of his subs. I wonder why he didn’t make them more often.

I don’t each subs anymore largely because I don’t eat much bread but I thought of dad and his subs today as I watched my husband making his version. He pulled out sliced turkey and salami, tomato, lettuce and onion, cheese. He opened a jar of mayo and spread it evenly across tortillas. He then layered everything nicely, topped it with a bit of spicy brown mustard and rolled it up nice and tight. A sub-ish wrap, if you will. Made by my hero.

A hero, then, is more than a sandwich. It’s a memory that is also celebrated in the present, with a tortilla playing the roll of the … roll. 

Packard it up and move on. Nothing to see here.

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 30, 2013 12:32 AM

Kevin’s first car was a 1948 Packard that he bought for $365 when he was a junior in high school. It had flat black paint and it needed a little work. He got it running and drove it for a number of years before he sold it to a guy who paid $500 because he needed the side-view mirror.

Kevin talks about that car fondly. We have a picture of him working on it, his wiry high school body leaning into the open hood, a wrench in his hand. Though I know it’s not possible, I wish I could have “met” that car. I have a fondness for the big, fat American cars of the 1940s.

The plant where Kevin’s car was built, in Detroit, is a ghost of its former self. It sits abandoned, its 3.5 million square feet of factory and office space sprawled across 35 acres that are overgrown and strewn with glass from the long-ago closed windows. It was designed by Albert Kahn and originally opened in 1903, employing, at the height of its production, more than 40,000 skilled workers who practiced over 80 different trades. It was the first plant of its kind to use reinforced concrete, and even had a test track on the roof. It closed in 1958 having produced 974,000 cars in its 55 years.

For quite some time, the Packard was considered a premier moniker, on par with Cadillac and Lincoln. It had a single production line that allowed for interchangeability between models known by their Series name. First Series, Second Series and so forth. In the end, though, the company was simply not big enough to offer real competition to the Big Three automakers of Ford, GM and Chrysler. Packard purchased Studebaker in 1954 to become the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. Studebaker had a larger dealer network and the men who ran Packard thought they could benefit from that market share. It didn’t work and the last Packard rolled off the assembly line in July of 1958, leaving the huge factory complex mostly vacant for the next 60 years.

It has slowly devolved into a haven for graffiti artists. Factory trucks still sit in loading bays, long rusted, relics to a simpler time for both the factory and Detroit, the city that cars built.

For a while, Chemical Processing Company occupied about 57,000 square feet of the complex, less than 1% of the total square footage. Regardless of the fact that there were tenants, vandals and scavengers would scour the buildings, cutting power and phone lines in search of scrap copper. While humans have been busy destroying what was once a symbol of greatness in the country, and certainly the city, the environment is actually doing more. Decades of harsh weather have left the largest abandoned factory in the world in dire straits, much like Detroit itself.

In September of this year, the plant was put up for auction. The starting bid was $975,000 which was the amount owed in taxes. No one bid. This month, it went up for auction again, at just $21,000. Dr. Jill Van Horn of Texas met that bid but then another doctor’s group that wants to turn the factory into an economic engine, producing modular homes and building supplies, came forward. Their bid: $6,030,000. 

I hope it goes through. It might help to revitalize one of the greatest American cities of the 20th century. I know it has had its problems. And the only time I’ve been there is to fly through once upon a time when Northwest was still an airline, so I only know it by reputation, and pictures, and talk amongst friends. But as a car lover and Packard lover, I do think this would be a good thing.

And Kevin would love it. That alone makes this worth celebrating, because he loved his Packard, and I love him.

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live out loud

I hear the sound of my husband’s motorcycle approaching

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 11, 2013 10:53 PM

Kevin and I are motorcycle people. We love them. He had bikes in the past, before I came into the picture. I always wanted one. I had friends in college who had bikes, sport bikes – or crotch rockets as they’re affectionately known – and street bikes. Cruisers weren’t really all that popular until the last 15 years or so. Two of my guy friends in college, Kevin (no relation) and Mac, had the same street bike. It was a Kawasaki 450, if memory serves. One of them was black, the other blue.

I tried to have a motorcycle when I was married the first time, but husband number one was more interested in fast cars and particularly in Porsches. I was OK with that as I’m also a car person. I love old cars, new cars, sports cars and classic cars. I love our current 1987 Porsche turbo. It’s my second Porsche. My first was during HNO (husband number one) and I had to sell it when we got divorced because I couldn’t afford the maintenance. I wish that I had the foresight to keep it. I babied that car; it would still be a great car. The turbo was not babied until we got it. We think of it like a rescue.

A number of years ago, when Maguire was still young and Blockbuster Video was still in business, he and I went for a Sunday morning Rover ride to return whatever we had rented. On the way home, stopped at a light on Agoura Road, two cruisers pulled up alongside of us, each being driven by a guy; each with a chick on the back. They looked comfortable and cool. They looked relaxed. They looked like they were having fun. When I got home I told Kevin that I thought we should get a motorcycle. We had one the following weekend, a beautiful silver Suzuki 850 Intruder. But it was too small, so within the year we upgraded to a Suzuki 1500 Intruder, but we never really fell in love with it. It was awkward, oafish. One summer, in 2007, while Kevin and Justin were in Illinois visiting Kevin’s family, I was standing in the kitchen perusing Motorcyclist magazine and there was an ad for a Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad 1500. A gorgeous bike with sleek lines, and built for two. It came with foot panels for the passenger and hard saddlebags, and a backrest. When Kevin got home, I broached the subject of maybe looking at one. We found a used one shortly thereafter and bought it. Metallic black, with lots of chrome and white-wall tires.  We’ve had it ever since.

Today, he had to run some errands and as he often does when it’s a beautiful day, he took the bike, roaring out of the driveway and down the street, the powerful growl of the engine disappearing into the desert as he rounded the corner and headed east.

I worry when he’s out by himself. He’s a great driver and beyond careful, but people don’t always see motorcycles and that leads to stupid accidents. When he goes off without me, he promises to text me whenever he arrives at his destination. I usually get nothing more than a simple “here.” He texts me again as he moves from place to place, keeping me updated so I know he didn’t go splat.

Kevin, returning home this afternoon

Sitting in my office this afternoon, the windows once again open, the cool of the day once again drifting in and around the room, I listened for the sound. Low and powerful, a lion’s purr, it’s very distinct. Whenever I hear it, I can’t help but smile. He has returned safely on this fine piece of machinery, one of the finest we’ve owned. Sleek as a cat and ready to cruise, it’s joy on two white-walled wheels.

I hear it now. I hear him approaching. I smile. Soon, I’ll be smiling broadly, enjoying the view as he pulls into the driveway, safe at home. Definitely worth celebrating. 

4:20 am and the phone sounds

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 2, 2013 1:06 AM

There are few things that can rouse a person out of a deep dream-state in a split second. An earthquake, the sound of glass breaking somewhere in the house (often synonymous with an earthquake) and a ringing phone. In the days before cell phones, an old-fashioned phone was usually propped on a bedside table. If its ring shattered the silence, it was just jarring enough to cause instant panic. Who died?

These days, many people no longer have landlines, Kevin and I included. Cell phones and all that they can do – and let’s face it they can do everything but go grocery shopping – have rendered landlines virtually extinct. This summer, after several years of threatening to pull the cord, we did, eliminating both our private line and our two business lines. Now the cell phones go with us everywhere, held in our hands or tucked in a pocket or a purse. They move to the coffee table at night when we set up to relax and watch a little tube before going to bed. Then they move into the bedroom, each taking up residence on its owner’s table, hopefully to be silent until the morning.

We’ve had telemarketing calls come in fairly early, around 7 am. That’s obnoxious, but we’re usually not in that dead-like sleep where the real world has ceased to exist and instead has been replaced by strange happenings that seem, remarkably, normal. Being in the same space with a group of people I haven’t seen since college. Driving a car that isn’t mine and that I’ve never seen before and trying desperately to find my lost candy bar. The possibility of time travel where my dad is still alive and young, as are my brother and sister, but where I’m the same age or older than I am now. A story is born.

I can imagine that in this state, my eyes are engaged in the rapid movement scientists often discuss. I know that this morning at 4:20 I was deep in the zone. I have no idea what I was dreaming about but I know it was interesting in that way that dreams have of being just fascinating and making perfect sense while you’re in them. It’s probably one of the reasons they dissipate so quickly upon waking. They want to leave you with the feeling of wow rather than the more apt thought of WTF.

At 4:20 am, there was a loud bloutzel blang, the sound that Kevin’s phone makes when it is getting a text message. Both of us sat up immediately, terrified. Hearts pounding. A cold sweat breaking out. Hair standing on end.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Your phone,” I said, hyperventilating. “I think it was a text message.”

“What time is it?”

“I have no friggin’ idea. Who is texting you at this hour?”

“Where’s my phone?”

“It must be over there. I heard it.”

“I heard it, too. Shoot. Where’s Cooper?”

Cooper was snoring. My heart was pounding as was Kevin’s. He reached for his phone to find out who was texting us before 4:30 in the morning, interrupting our dreams, our sleep, our night. Jolting us awake in the same way as an earthquake or glass breaking or the old-fashioned jangling phones of old.

“Justin. He needs rent money.”

“At 4:20 in the morning?!”

Granted it was 7:20 for Justin since he’s in New York. Still. We both slid back down into the bed, under the covers. Cooper sighed. Seriously? We’re up and talking? It’s still dark out. After a while, we both drifted back off to sleep, back into dreamland, and back into the night. 4:20 is early to be so rudely awakened but the ability to get back to sleep is always something worth celebrating.

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live out loud

Old Milwaukee

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 14, 2013 10:55 PM

It was an absolutely glorious day in the Southland so naturally my thoughts turned to Milwaukee. Allow me to set the stage. In typical K and L and C fashion, we were walking. It was about 8:06 or so when we got to the end of Hawthorne and crossed over Bowfield to head up into and around the cul de sac.

The sun was warm, unseasonably according to the weather dudes last night on KABC. Kevin was in shorts. I hadn’t gotten to that point yet – something about it only being the middle of March and technically not yet shorts season. But I was in lightweight pants and just a long sleeve denim shirt. Cooper was dressed in his usual fur and Aztec collar. We spun up and around and as we did, we came upon the remnants of what was undoubtedly a wonderful little party last night. Said remnants consisted of an empty can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and some other blue bottle. I could see a cigarette butt or two. It all fit. Cheap beer and bad cigarettes. Probably teenagers.

Would you be surprised if I said it made me nostalgic for when I was a crappy teenager drinking cheap beer? I would be surprised, too. First, I would never be nostalgic for being a teenager. I hated being a teenager. And second, I was never particularly fond of cheap beer.

But the Pabst prompted a discussion with the shorts-clad Kevin.

Me: “Is that a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon?”

Kevin: “Yup.”

Me: “I didn’t even know they still made that stuff? Do they still make that stuff?”

Kevin: “Well, they must. Either that or that was a really old can of beer and that’s just gross.”

I nodded, we kept walking. Cooper didn’t offer an opinion though he did lift his leg.

Me, after a few minutes. By now we were back onto Hawthorne but going the opposite direction. “Wasn’t there another really cheap beer called Stroh’s?” He nodded. Me, still: “Tim used to buy cases of really cheap beer when we lived in San Diego. But it only cost like $6.99 a case so it was like swill.” Ah, memories. Misty, swilly-colored memories of the way I used to live my life. Cue Barbra Streisand. “But I don’t think it was Stroh’s. Was there something cheap that started with a B?”

He racked his brain. I could see him squinching his mouth, which is what he does when he’s thinking really hard. Cooper was busy peeing on something else.

He offered Babst. But I thought he was joking.

Me: “You’re kidding right?”

Kevin: “Yes. Actually it’s Blatz. Or it was. I don’t know that they make it anymore.”

[They don’t because it became Pabst in 1958.]

We kept walking and he began naming some cheap beers he could remember: Schlitz, Hamm’s, Old Milwaukee.

Me: “That’s it!”

Old Milwakee, which doesn’t even have a “b” in it unless you count the “b” in Beer. It has evidently been a trusted, high quality beer since 1849, receiving awards and accolades. It became a value beer in 1955 when it was purchased by Schlitz Brewing. Then in 1982 both were acquired by Stroh’s. Stroh’s was acquired by Pabst in 2000. I just love how everything is cyclical.

I remember the beer cans on the bottom shelf of the used refrigerator in a ratty little apartment in San Diego in 1985. This was before Tim and I were even married. We were kids. We had no money. A case of beer cost $6.99. It was about all we could afford. I think at that point I was drinking Blue Nun Gewürztraminer so who am I to judge.

Old Milwaukee was brewed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin which has a section called the Third Ward that’s located in the historic warehouse district of the city, a place that’s home to more than 450 shops, restaurants, art galleries, theatre groups, creative businesses and residential homes. So there’s Old Milwaukee and old Milwaukee. Since I was never big on beer and especially on cheap beer, I’m going with the latter, even though I’ve never been there.

Me: “You know I’ve never been to old Milwaukee.”

Kevin: silence

Cooper lifted his leg. Again.  

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live out loud

Panic at 3:54

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 15, 2013 8:40 PM

It doesn’t happen very often but every once in a while, in the middle of the night, I wake up badly. By badly I mean that I’m jolted awake, mostly by some unseen force buried deep within my brain. It has happened when the earth moves, too, of course, but the earth has not moved substantially here in quite some time (that sound you here is me and everyone else in California furiously knocking on any piece of wood within reach). Last night, I was in bed, minding my own business, all snug and warm under my multiple layers of blankets. I think I was dreaming. Then all of a sudden a very loud horn blared and I woke up with my heart pounding.

At first I thought it was in the house and I sat up straight, listening. We don’t have anything in the house that makes a blasting horn sound so the rational part of me knew that it probably hadn’t come from the house. Still, I was anxious. I glanced over at my nightstand clock. It was 3:54.

The room was inky black. I could hear Cooper huffing in his sleep and knew that soon his feet would start to race as he dreamt of whatever it is he dreams of when he sleeps. Kevin’s steady breathing came from the other side of the bed, juxtaposed with my now panicky breathing. Where had the sound come from?

As I seemed to be the only one awake and anxious, I quickly surmised that it was all in my head and that the horn had sounded in my dream, but why? It was as it my subconscious did it purposely, to wake me up so that I could be drenched in anxiety and fear of something that didn’t even exist.

I laid back down and pulled the covers up. It always amazes me how quickly I can become cold just by becoming conscious. I was very still, willing my body to rediscover the warmth that I’d had just moments before. I was also still listening for the horn. Even though I had pretty much decided I had either dreamt it or imagined it, I still thought I should err on the side of caution.

And as I was lying there, trying to alleviate the panic, trying to reassemble the warm, it happened. My brain caught fire and began to race around in my head in a desperate attempt to put itself out. This is a freak thing that occurs more often than I’d like and almost entirely when I’m stressed or worried or stressed and worried; when I have too much to do; when I’m hopelessly behind and have pressing deadlines that I can’t imagine I’ll meet; and when I purposely and purposefully didn’t do as much as I should have during the preceding day and know that I didn’t – knew it when I was actively not doing it – even try all that hard.


My heart began to race and I could feel the panic flooding through me anew. My on-fire brain was quickly darting from one project to another, and I knew that if I didn’t find a way to extinguish it, I would be up the rest of the night. That would render me virtually worthless during the day and I would have yet another work period where I was hopelessly unable to accomplish anything of substance.

I finally started to get warm again, probably because of my brain fire and all, but I knew if I didn’t get all of this stuff out of my head, I was doomed. Luckily, for Christmas, my son gave me a new handy, dandy light-up pen, specifically for panic attacks like this. I keep paper on my nightstand as well. I reached over, grabbed the pen, took a minute to remember how to turn on both the light and extract the ballpoint, and suddenly my entire side of the bed was bathed in white light. It was like ET had come to visit. In the process, he had practically blinded me.

After I screwed my pupils back into place and was able to see the paper, I began to scribble furiously, one thing after another, one reminder after the next, and as the list of things I needed to do when the sun came up, after I walked the dog and checked my three email boxes and my voice mails and my incoming text messages, took shape the fire in my brain started to burn out. Soon, I was simply burnt.

Now it was time to tackle the arduous task of talking myself back to sleep. Sometimes this works, often after I’ve dumped whatever is in my head out onto paper – I call this, appropriately, paper-training – but sometimes it doesn’t. I’m too far gone. But I was determined to talk myself into the fact that yes, I had a lot to do but no, doing it in my head over and over and over again at now 4:21 am wasn’t the best use of my time.

The last time I looked at the clock, it was 4:36. All in all, not a bad mid-night panic attack.

And by 9:15 this morning, I had already crossed four things off of my scribbled list. It’s amazing what you can do when you panic, when the senses are highly attuned, when every cell in your body is on alert. It’s called focus. And it can work, but only if you have a light-up pen from your kid.

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Santa Claus is coming to my dining room table

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 19, 2012 8:18 PM

Once upon a time, somewhere in the 4th century, there was a man who lived in southwestern Turkey. He was known as the Bishop of Myra and was credited with a number of miracles mostly involving sailors and children. After his death, he became the patron saint of both groups as well as for unmarried girls. He was also given his own day of feast, initially celebrated on December 6th, and his name became Saint Nicholas.

After Pope Julius I decided to assign December 25th as the official celebration of the birth of Jesus, attempting to Christianize what had until then been the date of a pagan midwinter festival, Saint Nicholas’s day of feast also was moved to December 25th for consolidation purposes and the connection was established. A tradition soon developed that had Saint Nicholas visiting the homes of small children on the eve of December 24th. Eventually Saint Nicholas became Sinter Klaas who became Sancte Claus and finally Santa Claus.

It wasn’t until 1810 that Santa Claus was shown – in a drawing by Alexander Anderson – depositing toys in children’s stockings that had been hung by the fireplace. Soon he had transportation, desperately needed in order to reach all of those children, in the form a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, at least according to the song. He moved to the North Pole, thanks to cartoonist Thomas Nast, who was commissioned to do a series of drawings for Harper’s Weekly starting in 1862.Nast also is credited with creating the toy-building workshop and for the naughty or nice mantra. As for his lovely red and white outfit, it was Norman Rockwell who dressed Mr. Claus for a 1921 cover of The Country Gentleman magazine. By the time Coca-Cola showcased its famous depiction of the man in the red suit, his colors had already been well established.

I write all of this because I am a Santa Claus fan, especially when it comes to decorating our house for the holidays. I’m not one of those people who get out of control when it comes to decorating. In fact, I think I’m pretty tame by many standards. Outside, we hang some white lights in several of the trees and shrubs leading up to the front door. Two small white-light laced Christmas trees guard the entrance to the walkway and over the garage door, white icicle lights twinkle. I also put a wreath on the front door. It, too, has white lights. It’s actually quite subdued and lovely.

Inside, we have a 7-foot artificial tree decorated with grape-cluster lights; at the top is a Santa. A heart-shaped Wine Lover sign hangs from his mittened hand. Naturally, stockings are hung by the chimney, and placed strategically throughout the living and dining room are my Byers’ Choice Carolers. I’ve been collecting these wonderful little hand-painted, hand-assembled singers since the late 1980s and have currently amassed at least 30. Almost all are dressed in Dickensian England attire. There are men boldly singing, others singing while holding Christmas trees, still others with ice skates. There is a chimney sweep and his apprentice (naturally, they’re on the fireplace mantle above the stockings). There are children and dogs and cats. There is a woman selling wreaths and an old Christmas witch. And there is my finished collection of A Christmas Carol, all first edition, with Scrooge and Marley’s ghost, the three ghosts (of past, present and future), Bob Cratchet, Tiny Tim and Mrs. Cratchet, Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, the boy with the goose, and a redemptive Scrooge with Christmas presents. They are arranged on my music cabinet, complete with another Caroler wearing a sandwich board for “A Christmas Carol.”

When Kevin completed my collection several years ago, we almost didn’t know what to do. For years, every Christmas, his goal was to find another missing piece of the story, again as a first edition. He’d buy from sellers on ebay as well as in different stores across the country. He’d start in September, making phone calls. With the last Caroler – we think it was Mrs. Fezziwig – we looked at each other. He enjoyed the hunt; I love the Carolers. Now what?

I had bought myself a Santa Caroler years before, and my brother had bought me a Santa in a sleigh being pulled by a single reindeer. A new collection of Santas, also first edition, began. They are from all different times, wearing any number of Santa-approved outfits. They now grace the dining room table. I have six plus an elf plus a really big Santa in the background. Several years ago, my mom and sister sent me another big Byers’ Choice-type Santa who had previously been used only for display in stores. He stands, as big as a small child, on an antique wine box in the entrance way, welcoming visitors.

Santa Claus may be coming to your town but as far as I’m concerned he’s coming to my dining room table, and I’m thrilled to see him. In any incarnation.

A puddle stomping fun-fest

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 30, 2012 8:54 PM

It rained today, a lovely drizzle that occasionally turned to showers. I’m told the difference between rain and showers is that showers aren’t steady whereas rain is. To me, if it’s precipitating, it’s raining. I used to run in the rain. In fact, when I would see the sky painted gray and the air would feel heavy with moisture, I was practically giddy with anticipation. Once the rain would start to fall, I’d lace up my Asics, pull on the appropriate gear and off I’d go, iPod strapped to my arm, buds in my ears. I always ran further and faster when it was raining because it kept me cooler.

Walking in the rain has a similar effect. We walked this morning with Cooper, going about a mile and a half, to Starbucks and back. It was the perfect morning for something hot. We trudged back through the drizzle while Cooper maneuvered himself under every bush, the heavier with water, the more he liked them. We walked down sidewalks, across parking lots, down a double flight of stairs with Kevin and I carefully avoiding puddles and Cooper splashing merrily through them. When we returned, Kevin and I felt great and Cooper smelled like a wet dog for an hour or two. He couldn’t have been a happier boy unless maybe it was snow.

At lunch, the two two-legged members of the family went for another walk. It started to absolutely pour but we kept on, going up the Rockfield hill and down the Bowfield one, across Lindero and up behind the Fresh ‘n Easy through the alley behind. Birds were flying low, landing on the wet pavement. A little black and grey bird waded through water pulsing from the gutter, careening and cascading down the road, rippling as when a stone breaks a still plane of water. The bird hopped a bit, pecked at the water, then flew off to find a dry branch.

Again, we avoided puddles. But I found myself looking at them longingly. I wanted to run and jump and stomp in them, send water skyward in even bigger bursts of drops than those that previously fell. I don’t know what stopped me. Maybe it was not wanting wet, soggy feet. Maybe it was that a lot of the puddles worth stomping in were near the gutter spouts and thus the water was pretty dirty. Maybe because it wasn’t raining hard enough to make the great foot-stomping joy of something like the puddles in Singing in the Rain.

I’m a moderate fan of the film but a huge fan of the title song scene and the athletic Gene Kelly stomping with wild, glorious, joyful abandon through puddles on the backlot of the old MGM studios in Culver City. To film this famous scene, holes were dug out of the pavement to make puddles exactly where Kelly’s choreography wanted them. A complex system of pipes was engineered to make the downpour perfect. There are conflicting reports as to whether milk was mixed with the water to make the rain more visible. Regardless, the area was darkened with tarps and lit from behind to make the rain sparkle and to keep the fake shop windows from having reflections. Just as they were about to begin shooting, the water wouldn’t run through the pipes because it was after 2 in the afternoon, which was when the people of adjacent Beverly Hills ran their yard sprinklers. They filmed a bit later instead.

Kelly was also running a fever of about 103º. The soaking he endured caused his wool suit to shrink even while he was filming. I think if you watch, you can see that the sleeves on the jacket are a little too short. The scene is ten shots, and Kelly said that he created the right mood by invoking the “thought of the fun children have splashing about in rain puddles and I decided to become a kid again during the number.”

And there it is. The puddle stomping fun is silly and gleeful, and mesmerizing. It makes you remember what it means to be a kid, to be unencumbered by protocol, to not give a damn about wet feet – in fact, to prefer them. The soggier and squishier, the better.  

I thought of that scene today, one of films’ greatest as far I’m concerned. It personifies, with song and dance, the very essence of living it out loud. 

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live out loud

Grapes on the floor and other delicacies

by Lorin Michel Monday, November 12, 2012 8:04 PM

As regular readers may recall, the husband unit and I have embarked on a new hobby of late. We’re making wine. About a month ago, we got our first 110 pounds of Syrah grapes from a vineyard in Santa Barbara County, an area that produces simply extraordinary Syrah. Some of our favorite Syrah wines are from that county, and specifically from Santa Ynez where wineries like Zaca Mesa, known for their Syrahs, are located. A week ago yesterday, we got our second delivery of grapes, this time in the guise of 115 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon. They came from the Central Coast region and specifically from a vineyard in Paso Robles.

For seven days this batch sat fermenting in the garage, munching on yeast, the skins sharing their color with the grape juice. Each morning, Kevin would punch down – pushing the skins that had risen because of the fermentation process to cluster in a thick patch atop the juice back down into it. Each afternoon, he would punch down again. Ditto, evening. Some days he punched down four or five times. This allows for the deep red color as well as additional flavor and the natural preservatives of the skins to settle into the eventual wine. That’s what is known as tannins. When you drink a wine that’s tannic, your lower jaw muscles twitch and clench involuntarily.

Each day we also watched the sugar level so that we would know when to remove the skins permanently from the juice, press them to get as much more juice as possible and then begin the aging process. We wanted the sugar level to be about 4 or 5 percent, down from 24.5. Yesterday it was time to press. We strained the skins through the juice and dumped them into a smaller fermenter tub. Then we siphoned the juice out of the primary fermenter into a glass carboy so that it can finish its fermentation and begin aging. Eventually it, like the Syrah, will go into French oak barrels to age and for flavor.

A little wine-making trivia for you: the siphoned juice is called free run. We got about five gallons of free run Cabernet Sauvignon. Once we pressed the skins, which took another 2 hours or so, we had an additional three gallons and one quart. We got everything cleaned up, washing the equipment we no longer needed in order to preserve it for the next time we do, putting away the fermenting tubs, and storing the wine-filled carboys on top of the work bench in the garage. Until we eventually get a bigger house, our “winery” is the two-car garage which, even while the wine is making, contains two cars and a motorcycle in addition to all of the other crap we have stored there.

Michel Cellars*

A note: once the wine is aging in oak barrels, those barrels will be moved into our temperature controlled wine room which is really not much bigger than a small walk-in closet. It holds about 300 or so bottles, and in the back, there is space for our barrels. Once we have the aforementioned bigger house, our official wine making will be split between the third car garage and the huge laundry room sporting massive countertops and a stainless steel sink. Sinks and running water are essential when one is making red wine. We’ll also have a much bigger wine room for storing wine as well as for aging in our barrels.

Everything was clean and put away save for several pieces of newspaper that had been spread on the floor to catch any errant drops and the occasional flattened, juiceless grape skin. We were standing in the garage, admiring our handy work, comparing the color of the Syrah which is dark to be black and the Cab which is more purple and red. We were checking the temperature. We want it cool but not cold; another reason to keep the cars inside, especially after they’ve been run and the heat pours off of a now-resting engine. Cooper was whining at the door so we opened it and let him come out into the garage with us. He sniffed, he pawed the newspaper, he turned an inquisitive eye – just one – to us as if to say: “ You guys are kind of messy. These papers are supposed to be on the counter in the kitchen.”

Kevin assured him that everything was just fine and he and I went back to discussing our wine. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cooper pawing the paper again, then trying to chew on something. It was a grape skin. He scarfed it up and liked it. Hey, Mikey. Liked it so much, in fact, that he went in search of more and found at least three other emaciated grape skins to nibble on.

We always wanted a winery dog. Looks like we got one.

Cooper: Winery dog

Cooper Michel of Michel Cellars. Seeker of raisin-like grape skins and other delicacies on the garage floor and all floors. If it’s edible, he will find it. Even if it’s not edible, or particularly delectable, he will eat it. He is our winery dog, and he seems to prefer deep, rich reds – or at least the skins – just like us. He’s fitting right in. And living it out loud. 

*Art by Barbara Barry, of Spoiled Dog Winery.



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