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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live out loud

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.



Watch this

by Lorin Michel Friday, August 17, 2012 11:43 PM

Kevin found a watch this morning on our walk. I’m not sure how he saw it as it was off to the side in the foliage, and it was green. He picked it up; it was still fastened as if on a wrist. It had no face. His temporary ‘cool’ was replaced with ‘oh, well.’ He stuck it in his pocket until we got home and then he tossed it in the trash.

Kevin is a big watch person. He has an old watch like his dad used to wear and we hunted for a long time to find a band that had a vintage look. He also has my dad’s old watch, one with a silver and gold face and a metal elastic band. He doesn’t wear that one as much because it grabs at the hairs on his arm making it a little uncomfortable. It brings up a good point, though. How does anyone wear a band like that and not have the same thing happen?

Kevin's watch, only his band is blue

Many years ago I bought him a beautiful watch with a gold and silver face and a rich, brown leather band. On its face was one of our favorite cartoon characters: Mr. Bugs Bunny. There’s a Swiss Army watch with a big, bold white face and a thick silver band. I wear that one sometimes. I like the bulk of it. But his favorite watch is the one I bought him when we got married.

We had gone to a local jeweler in Westlake Village, DeJaun Jewelers, to pick out wedding rings; actually to pick out a wedding ring for him. My engagement ring was/is such that a ring needed to be designed to fit around it. Kevin had designed it; we just needed someone to craft it. We found him a plain platinum band with just a hint of gold around the edges. DeJaun then took a mold of my engagement ring, along with Kevin’s design, and made mine. It took 10 days.

As we were in the store, waiting to pick up both rings, we were browsing the cases. So much of the jewelry in jewelry stores is not to my taste. It tends to be heavy on precious stones, too heavy, and I’m more of a minimalist. My engagement ring has a solitaire stone of about one karat, with five tiny stones on each side that curve up and down and eventually form the perfect circle of the ring. That’s plenty of bling for me. My wedding bands (yes, two) are gold and platinum, one of each. But both Kevin and I love watches. We’re fascinated by them, and while some can border on too much, many are stunning in simplicity, color and detail. We’re partial to TAG Heuer. I’ve had one since 1990. It has a thick stainless steel and gold serpentine band; the watch face is round and white. It’s simple and still beautiful. In the TAG display case was a man’s watch with a sapphire blue face, encased in high chrome with diver’s marks all around. The band was thick, navy blue leather. He was in lust. I went back several weeks later and bought it for him for a wedding present. It’s still his favorite.

This is an $11 million watch.

Watches evidently fell a bit out of favor for a while but they’re making a comeback. It seems that with the proliferation of cell phones and even mp3 players, all equipped with time that syncs to the world atomic clock in Greenwich, England (Kevin calls it the mother ship), many people stopped wearing watches. If they needed to know what time it was, they simply looked at their phone. If they had a pre-determined appointment somewhere, they set their phone’s alarm.

But watches are back and boasting new retro styles and equally bold designs. The fashion designers are including sexy new time keeping devices on the wrists of male and female models strutting down the runways in New York, Paris, Tokyo, London and LA. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reports that watch sales are the highest they’ve been in 20 years, with exports from Switzerland surging 19.2 percent last year. Sales of watches up to $300 increased 22 percent; watches $300 to $1000 increased by 25 percent. Swatch and Fossil had increases of 40 percent in sales.

Men’s watches are selling faster than women’s, though it’s not just men wearing men’s watches. Women are also buying men’s watches because they’re bigger and bolder. They’re like the new version of the boyfriend jeans. Remember the 1980s when women wore their boyfriend’s jeans and just cinched the waist tight with a really cool belt? Yeah, I know. But we all did it.

Watches range from cheap to absurd with most people wearing something that falls in between. Many are like tiny mechanical sculptures – pieces of art – for the wrist. Some have enormous faces that seem to engulf the arm. The cheapest seem to be made by Casio; the most expensive are made by Patek Philippe at $11 million. Yes, you read that correctly. Many are analog rather than digital, with arms that can even make intellectual statements while telling time. A watch by Mr. Jones called The Accurate, which sells for $189, has a hour hand that reads “remember” and a minute hand that reads “you will die.” Not exactly cheery though I prefer to think of it as more of a carpe diem message.

Since none of us knows when our time is up, seize the day (and subsequently the time) and live life out loud. Just watch the time.

The Tuesday episode

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 24, 2012 11:35 PM

In today’s installment of Lorin’s weird dreams, I was in my old college Toyota, having chosen that over my mother’s much sleeker Supra and I was driving one of my clients and her little girl to the beach. My sister was also with us but she was about 5. It was raining like hell, I couldn’t see but I was driving straight ahead as if I could. My brother was there, too, at the front of the car, telling me which way to go – to the right! – like he was on the bow of a boat – starboard! – so as not to hit anything or go off the road. But I hit something anyway and then I had to get another car and the beach was too crowded anyway.

To which I say, huh?

The human mind is an amazing place to visit but I’m not sure I’d want to live there.

On this Tuesday, I have spent some time watching a service-puppy-cam. I do this sometimes simply for the smile value. It’s addictive, watching puppies frolic and eat and sleep and play. There are six particular puppies on this one live cam, and one mother, all golden retrievers. The puppies are in training to become service dogs. They evidently start this training at a very early age, conditioning them to certain things. I don’t know what all was done, but I watched the woman I’m assuming is Holly since the cam’s name is Holly’s Half Dozen as she lifted each up onto a table, removed their collars, maybe trimmed their nails, fed them something off her fingers and made sure they stood up. There was no sound on the cam; I wish there was. I would like to have heard the little puppy yips and yuks as they pounced and chewed and acted all kinds of puppy-tough. I’ve had the cam minimized, down in the lower right of my screen, most of the day.

At one point I had first Bobbi and then Kevin completely hooked. Kevin was even doing a running commentary. Hey, guys. Watch this. Hey. Where’s mom? Hey, did you see what’s happening over here?

A still from Tuesday's puppy-cam episode

Watching these little balls of fluff on puppy TV made me remember my own ball of fluff when he was just 8 weeks old. So much energy, bounding around the house, bouncing instead of running, eating his food in mid-air as we were pouring it into his bowl, terrified to go too far on a walk, even on his leash. We kennel-trained Maguire, and each night, after he had been fed and taken outside for a small puppy walk, we’d let him run around the house. Each night, that meant a gradual emptying of his kennel. His house, we called it. It was his den, his sanctuary. There was a blanket, his toys. And one by one, each thing inside would be carried outside and deposited in a nice little Maguire pile on the rug in the dining room. Then the playing would commence.

When we first got our beloved boy, we still lived in a two-story town house with a sunken living room. There were two steps down and he handled those well. The stairs up to the second floor were another tail all together. They were split, with three up to a small landing, then a 90º turn to the left where the majority of the steps loomed and led to another landing. Another sharp 90º turn to the left, up two and you were in the hallway that separated the two bedrooms. He could get up the first three, make the turn and then get up one. Then he’d stand there with his front paws up on the next step, rear legs on the first step, and cry that wonderful little puppy cry that said “it’s too scary; I can’t do it.” One of us would pick him up, assuring him that everything was just fine. He tried and tried.

One night, after I’d gotten home and taken him out, he was tearing around the dining room with his blue bone in his mouth. I dashed upstairs to get something and as I was up there, the phone rang. I was in the master bedroom; I grabbed it. It was Kevin. We talked for only a minute or two but as I was standing in the bedroom, suddenly this little black ball of fur popped around the corner. He had made it up all the stairs. He raced down the hall toward me, little legs moving as fast as he could make them, his ears flopping in his created breeze, tongue hanging just to one side of his mouth; a big grin on his face. He was so proud. He had braved the mountain to get to mom and he had conquered.

I’ll never forget that moment. Even now, as I type the story, I’m smiling through my tears. Dog, he was cute.

On the web cam, mom has come in. She’s eating as the puppies feed. She looks sad, in that beautiful way that dogs do; I suspect she’s over this motherhood thing. They’re getting too big; she’s tired.

There are seven dogs on this show, all of them that sweet honey color, all of them well-cared for; loved. It’s crowded like the beach in my dream but the weather is fine. It’s naptime now. One just tipped over his brother, another stood in the empty food bowl. Another one is curled on what I believe is the equivalent of the puppy litter box. Mom is lying in the middle of them all, surveying her pups. Now her head, too, goes down. Soon the feet twitch; the dreams have begun.

Another episode comes to an end. Roll credits.

My husband loves to make furniture and he's good at it

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 15, 2012 10:43 PM

My husband knows things, things no one else on my planet knows and I am forever amazed to find out. Things like if you have a two story house and the upstairs doesn’t get as cool as it should, it might be because of where the AC vents are located vis-à-vis the cold air intake. I didn’t even know what a cold air intake was until we got together. And that if you want to push more cool air to the upstairs, close all of the vents downstairs.


He knows how to fix sprinkler heads and doesn’t need the gardener to do it for him. He has more tools than Home Depot. He diagnosed and fixed a problem with Justin’s car yesterday and it wasn’t the first time. All it needed was a relay, which, thankfully, Pep Boys had in stock. $48 later, the car was back to its optimum running condition. If I was just me, I would have put the car in the shop and $200 plus later, I would have had a new relay installed with labor attached.

He just knows stuff that most of us mere mortals don’t. Like how to rewire a light switch without getting electrocuted or put recessed lighting in the kitchen to replace the ugly fluorescent lights. I realize there are professionals who do this stuff (see previous paragraph: Justin’s car), but to just be a regular guy who can essentially fix anything is astonishing to me. It’s also very handy around the house. When I have a to-do list, he can do just about everything on it without breaking a sweat.

Several years ago, he designed and built his own studio. It sits in the corner of the back of our little piece of property here in the OP, and serves as his at-home place of work. He also has an office in the Valley for meetings and such, but his studio is his haven. The place he spends up to 14 hours each day. It has a foundation, is fully insulated, electrified, has wi-fi and cable, a ceiling fan and is just a fabulous space. Most people, when they’re in the back for the first time, don’t even see it. That’s the genius of his design. It’s built to become part of the back yard, not to exist in spite of it.

When we first moved into this house in 1997, he designed and built an entertainment center that would hold what was then one of the big TVs. We still have it; a 36” JVC tube-type television. It works just fine and we don’t watch that much television. It fits in the space and that’s what we care about. The center also holds all of the stereo equipment including a working turntable, all of our CDs and DVDs (and a few VHS tapes I couldn’t bear to part with like Beauty and the Beast, Gone with the Wind and Galaxy Quest). It’s made of curly maple, and still gets compliments for its modern lines and unobtrusive nature.

Justin’s room, which has now become the guest room, is not large. In fact, the entire house is not large but it’s perfect for us. Still, the two rooms upstairs, one of which is my loft office, are relatively small. About 11 X 10 ish. In order to give Justin more floor space, Kevin designed and built a queen-size loft bed with a circular stair at one end that the kid slept in throughout high school. It was fabulous. We dismantled it once he moved out, got rid of the stairs and shortened the posts to make a shorter bed. It’s still fabulous, only not as tall.

When Maguire was getting older and we needed to raise his food and water bowls off the floor, Kevin designed and welded together a steel tray that was the perfect height for our boy.

In the master bedroom, I long hated our furniture. Finally, with the exception of the wrought iron sleigh bed frame that holds our California king, I got rid of everything else: the two bedside tables/night stands, the dresser and the chest of drawers. We replaced the bedside tables with something I found at Pottery Barn. But a piece of furniture to sit against the wall opposite the bed to hold t-shirts, shorts and incidentals below and the flat screen TV on top eluded us. We searched; we did not find. So Kevin pulled out his sketchpad and began to draw. We wanted something not big. Nothing that would overpower the room (see two paragraphs above: small house) but that would do exactly what we needed and maybe even a little more. Like hold some books.

As a writer and a book lover, I have piles of books everywhere. The coffee table in the living room has two stacks, artfully arranged of course. Next to the music cabinet, on the floor, I have a number of books lined up; another stack appears in front of it. The bedroom has long been home to numerous piles as has my office. And my office has bookshelves, though those shelves were long ago filled. So I thought it would be nice if we also had a piece of furniture with a shelf or two that could house some books.

We’ve been building it for a while. I say “we” because Kevin designs, we decide on the type of wood together (in this case, birch), then he cuts all of the pieces and assembles. Once it’s together, I stain and polyurethane. The basic shell of the piece was completed months ago and has been in place in the bedroom since. We finished the doors just a couple of weeks ago and hung those. Today, we put on the hardware. We’re officially done.

I know how lucky I am to have someone who not only knows how to do all of this stuff, but also enjoys it. I suspect if he could do just about anything in the world, he’d make furniture. It’s a dying art, unfortunately, but he’s so good at it. And because he is, we have these wonderful one-of-a-kind pieces in our house. Timeless, functional and beautiful.

So tonight I celebrate my honey, who knows how to work a honey-do list like no one I’ve ever met. Now, Kev – about the front suspension on the Porsche… 

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