The Middle

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 20, 2017 8:50 PM

At any given time, the number of women in this country who are on a diet is somewhere around 50%. That’s according to the Judy Mahle Lutter book “The Bodywise Woman.” Others have estimated it to be half that much. Regardless, when you consider that there are some 126 million women, that’s a bunch. Up to 90% of teenagers diet regularly and even 50% of younger kids have tried a diet at some point. The numbers aren’t that hard to believe when you realize that, according the Marketdata, Americans spend somewhere between $46.3 billion and $100 billion each year on weight loss products. It’s probably because the Centers for Disease Control have told us that 62% of us are overweight or obese. Another 9 million kids are suffering from that particular malady as well.

I bring all of this up because I have no idea now to diet. I was a fat baby but after that, I was pretty slim. I went through high school thin, though never skinny. I had a brief flirtation with what it was like to gain wait when I was in college, which I blamed on dining hall food. That quickly got under control when I moved into an apartment and started working at a restaurant known for its pizza. I also catered for a restaurant known for its clambakes on the beach. I lived on pizza, lobster and alcohol, and was in great shape. I was also 21.

Another flirtation with minimal weight gain happened in my mid 20s. I’m not sure what was behind it but I remember feeling a little thicker than usual during one trip north to wine country. It didn’t last long, and I was fairly quickly back to normal. I was always able to eat and drink what I wanted without consequence. My blood pressure has been low, my cholesterol fine. I exercised a lot when I was younger. Everything worked well.

Then I turned 50. Suddenly nothing worked at all, including my ability to not gain weight and gain weight I have. Not a ton, but enough that it bugs me. Nothing fits me as well as it used to. I feel thick and dumpy. 

The problem I’m really having though is that because I never had a weight problem, I never learned how to diet. I don’t know how to navigate these new heavier waters. It’s foreign to me, and GPS is not working at all. And the fact is, I’m not actually a believer in diets. I think most people are too harsh on what they allow themselves to eat, and so they drop weight but then, because they’ve deprived themselves, they end up falling off their diet and gaining everything back plus. 

Moderation, it seems, is key. It worked for me in the past when I felt a little off. Cut back a bit and everything was/is fine. 

But did I mention about turning 50? Now the cutting back a bit doesn’t seem to work very well. I blame metabolism. I blame menopause. I blame age-rot. I blame the middle. As in my middle. 

The point is, I’m trying to diet in my own way, cutting back on what I eat, especially when it comes to carbs. And I love carbs. Oh, how I love carbohydrates. Pasta, bread, potatoes. Chips. I love to eat; I love to drink wine. But the middle can no longer be ignored. So this week, Kevin and I have decided – not to diet – but to eat healthier. Cut back on carbs. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Drink more water. 

We’re both determined to do something about our middles. 

Yesterday and today I made us smoothies in the morning. I poured orange juice into the blender, then added yogurt (strawberry yesterday, blueberry today), and fresh fruit (strawberries, bananas, blueberries). Blended. Poured. Tasty. For lunch today, I made salads. I always put raisins on my salads. I like the hint of sweet with the tang of salad dressing.

Then I saw on HealthPlus50 that three of the worst culprits for an expanding middle are … yogurt, raisins and orange juice. Still, I have to believe that yogurt, raisins and orange juice are still better that toast, bagels, or poptarts.

mmmmm. Poptarts. I think they come in blueberry, a perfect complement to my smoothies.

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Bye bye birdie

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 13, 2017 8:27 PM

As of the end of 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wildlife Strike Database had reported 70,577 incidents of birds striking aircraft. They started keeping track in 2010. The amount, which has undoubtedly risen in the first nearly six months of 2017, averages out to one strike every 45 minutes. Those are just the ones that are documented. It’s possible there are more. The good news is that only 7% are actually damaging events.

One of the most famous bird strikes occurred in January 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia in New York. Two eight pound geese flew into each of the plane’s engines, causing massive failure and the famous water landing that’s been dubbed the Miracle on the Hudson.

Birds have been known to dent aircraft. They also don’t discriminate. In 2012, birds hit Air Force Two, with then Vice President Joe Biden onboard, as it was landing in Santa Barbara.

I bring this up today not because I was in an airplane that was struck by birds. Rather, I was in a house that suffered a strike this morning.

As I have written about before, our house has a lot of glass. Glass on the front of the house, not as prolific as glass on the back, but still prevalent, looking up onto the hillside behind us from the dining room, the front door, and the kitchen. On that hillside, are birds. Ravens and falcons are the big ones that haunt everything and lord over everyone. They occasionally land on the roof but never attempt to fly through the glass. Smaller cactus wrens, woodpeckers, humming birds are more brazen. The biggest culprits seem to be doves. 

This morning, as I was sitting in my office, I heard a horrendous crash, the noise coming from the vicinity of the dining room. Kevin had already asked me earlier if I had a bird hit the glass in my office. I assured him that what he heard was me slamming a fly swatter against a very large wasp. But this noise, this crash, was obviously a bird. I came out of my office, Kevin out of his, and we met in the dining room. There, on the glass, was a lot of red, some feathers and streaks where the liquid was running down the glass. 

I gulped, afraid to look down into the portico below. As I got closer, I realized that what was on the glass was not what I feared. It actually had seeds. And was more pink than blood red. But laying in the portico, not dead, was a white winged dove. We’ve had bird strikes before, some that have killed the poor creature. Most times, though, it simply stuns them. They sit, very still, staring straight ahead. Eventually they fly off.

This bird had obviously tried to fly through the glass with a piece of saguaro fruit in its mouth. It was the fruit that splattered on the glass. The dove was lying in a pool of juice. It was breathing, its eyes were open, but we were concerned. What to do?

Eventually, it righted itself but didn’t move. A longer time later, it began to walk around. We noticed an initial few drops of blood but then nothing. It extended its head, its tail feathers fluffing up and out. It tried to fly but had some trouble, instead settling down onto the portico, in the shade. 

We checked on it regularly. We hoped that it would be OK. We felt bad. After all, someone – us – dropped a house here in the middle of its desert. In the middle of the homes of all the desert creatures. It’s why we don’t kill anything, especially if its outside. Inside might be another matter. We have killed two scorpions and several spiders. We had a red headed centipede that we had to kill. But generally we try to be respectful. And we don’t like that we have caused several birds harm, including today.

After a number of hours, when the bird hadn’t yet been able to fly, I called the Tucson Wildlife Center. They’re a hospital for rescuing, rehabilitating and then releasing all manner of wild creatures here in the desert. I was all set to scoop the bird up and drive it to their facility. I couldn’t let it stay there all night, exposed, hurting, perhaps dying.

Riley stood at the window and whined throughout the day. And then, he stopped. I went to check. The bird was gone, having flown away, finally, and hopefully to continue living it out loud in the desert above.

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There is a delight

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 11, 2017 8:59 PM

On March 15, 1910, just over a year after he left office, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that “there are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” He was in Khartoum at the time, leading an expedition to Africa in search of specimens for the Smithsonian’s new Natural History museum. Khartoum is in the Sudan, and at the time, was a burgeoning metropolis. It is now the capital of the region. But at the time, it was surrounded by the white sands of the desert and the rich fauna of the Nile Valley. He wrote those words about the vistas and landscapes he had encountered. I use them today to describe the vistas and landscapes we encountered this morning.

I don’t know what compelled me to move west. This magical place was just where I always imagined myself to be. I do know what compelled us to move to the desert. It wasn’t anything we’d ever even considered but when we brought Justin to school here in August of 2009, we knew it would eventually be our new home. Settling into the east side of town, we continually marvel at the vistas and landscapes. We are surrounded by rock and mountains, by saguaros and ocotillos and trees. From our house on the hill we can see for at least 10 miles and probably more. The desert, rimmed by mountains, stretches before us to infinity.

Kevin was up early this morning, by 6:15, early for a Sunday, the day we jokingly refer to as “the day of rest.” He didn’t sleep well, probably because he was overtired. Yesterday he started rocking outside, finishing the lower swale, at 5 am. He was done by 7:30 and then he switched to finishing the front brakes on the Classic. Luckily, I convinced him to buy an air conditioner for the garage so it was at least somewhat hospitable in there while the temperatures raged outside. He worked all day, and then couldn’t sleep. 

I got up about a half hour later, when I heard the coffee pot sputter and snarl and spit signaling that it was almost done brewing. My boys were on the deck. I poured two cups of coffee and went out to join them. We marveled at the calm of the morning, at the temperature just in the low 70s. At 7:30, I said it would be a great morning for a motorcycle ride and suggested we go. I didn’t have to suggest twice.

We climbed aboard the Gold Wing and took off south and east. We weren’t going anywhere in particular so we never reached a destination. Instead, we simply meandered, finding a road we’d never taken before and following it. The day was still early; there were almost no cars where we were. Even the churches we went by, and there were many, weren’t yet open for business.

We went past Saguaro National Forest east, something that often makes us smile since we seemingly live in a saguaro forest of our own. We headed toward Colossal Caves knowing that we weren’t going to stop, but it gave a place to turn around. The road surface was smooth, unlike so much in the desert. There were no stop signs or stop lights, just a wide open two-lane road. The sun was warm but not hot. I watched quail and roadrunners crossing the road; I watched for deer and cattle. We saw horses, and an osprey that landed in the middle of the road to extract something that used to be something else. In the trees to the east, huge black ravens sat perched on the branches of mesquite trees, their feathers glistening in the morning sun.

I was struck by the vastness of it, the desolate nature, and sheer glory of this Sonoran desert we call home.

The fuller Teddy Roosevelt quote says: “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.” That from a republican president. Something to celebrate on this Sunday.

Lizards, and deer, and rabbits oh my

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 31, 2017 8:51 PM

When it gets hard for me to find something to celebrate, I turn to nature. I do that a lot lately, marveling at the color of the sky, the green of the desert, the harshness of the wind. I find solace in the blooming cacti, so many of them sprouting different colors and different shapes of flowers and fruit. The saguaros have done their annual halo of white flowers. They’ve mostly all bloomed and are in the process of drying and dying, to fall and be picked up by birds. While they last, they’re angelic. The tiny cactus that flood the hillsides – I can’t recall their names – have been vibrant with red and hot pink while the prickly pear have been red, and the hedgehog cactus have been pink. The whipple cholla are currently teasing us with an amber, almost copper colored flower.

The creatures are out, too. We have deer all year long, and javelina, too. But now we also have snakes and spiders and lizards and toads. And rabbits. All of whom send my Riley into orbit. 

This morning, after our walk and is his habit, he takes wubba, dashes onto the deck and whips poor wubba back and forth, growling, barking, and generally announcing that any who would dare show their face in his desert. HIS. DESERT. should consider themselves warned. He does not take kindly to intruders, even those who came before him. 

So there he was, out on the deck, standing guard at the rail, staring into the abyss of the desert stretching beneath him. He seemed fixated on something. His tail was rigid, his ears forward, his body ready to spring. Which he eventually did, bouncing up in the air as if on a pogo stick and barking simultaneously when into his territory came a rabbit. A rather big rabbit by desert rabbit standards. And this one was brazen. Even though there was much commotion happening above him, he seemed to instinctively know that the wild animal in red fur couldn’t get to him. And so, Mr. Rabbit took up a spot just below Mr. Riley, in full view of Riley, taunting, while he proceeded to nibble on a bit of mesquite. He nibbled and nibbled, then sat back on his rear haunches, and stared straight ahead. Riley, big tough dog, could do nothing.

Eventually the rabbit got bored of his game and hopped up and over the deck. I thought we might be able to return to some quiet.

I was wrong.

A lizard, or three, each well over a foot long, shot down the hill and across the dirt below. Riley loves lizards, loves to chase them. Has even caught one or two. But again, from the deck, all he can do is whine and snarl and bark and dance. Every once in a while, he’ll look back at me, sitting inside, at my desk, watching him with a smile, as if to say: “Do you SEE what’s going on down there? How can you be so CALM?” 

Yesterday, as I was getting ready to go meet my friend Stephanie, I noticed movement in the window behind me. In our master bath, we have a pedestal-type tub that sits nestled in front of three large windows that look out onto the driveway and the hillside beyond. It had been windy but the movement wasn’t the wind. I turned to look and there, just feet away from the house, were two – no, three! – deer. They had come down the hill to munch on some cactus and mesquite. My movement made them freeze and stare, directly at me, directly through me. I moved slowly from the bathroom, tucked Riley into my office and closed the door, and then called to Kevin. “Bring your camera.”

We hadn’t seen them that close before. Just like the rabbit had never been so brazen before, or the lizards to teasing. Perhaps we’re getting a reputation for being soft on wildlife. Perhaps they know that no harm will come to them here. Kevin and I wouldn’t hurt them, and Riley can’t get to them.

There are lizards, and deer, and rabbits. And so many more incredible creatures and wonders in this desert, so many colors, so much extreme and so much majesty. Something to celebrate not just today, but every day.

I have a theory

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 15, 2017 10:10 PM

Long ago I made the pronouncement that I’m not particularly crazy about teenagers. I’ve never made an attempt to hide it; Justin knew all about even as he careened through his teens. His teens ended up being exhibit B as to why I’m not a fan of the years between 13 to 19. I was exhibit A. 

Unlike many people, I remember well how horrible I was as a teen. I was fairly miserable, not fitting in where I wanted to fit in, not being as popular as I wanted to be, not getting everything that I demanded from my parents. I was impossible, moody, demanding, raging about nothing and everything, in no particular order; rude. My parents tolerated me, even loved me. I was why I decided that teenagers weren’t fit for human consumption.

I also know that I eventually became human again. It happened sometime during college and the metamorphosis, that time after I finished school and went out on my own. I still had insecurity issues and occasional bouts of mood, but I softened with age. I liked my parents again; more importantly they liked me again, too. While they always loved me, the like thing was difficult during “those years.” 

Much the same happened with Justin. We didn’t much like him. He was moody and difficult and demanding. He continually pushed us to the edge, and sometimes we went over. We didn’t like him, he hated us. Then he went to college and suddenly, we liked him again. He liked us. We were reborn as a family. 

I think the teenage years are some of the cruelest. Your body is betraying you, your moods are uncontrollable. You hate everyone and mostly yourself. When you get old and your body is once again betraying you, it’s also cruel because you know how good you once had it. As a teen you can’t imagine the wonder that awaits. I think that’s why it’s more cruel. 

Regardless, being a teen totally sucks. This is something I thought of today as I spoke with my sister who is in the midst of her own teen turmoil. I mentioned my theory, one she was familiar with. Here it is: 

Teens become awful because they’re getting ready to leave for college and by the time they do, as a parent, you’re so ready for them to go, you don’t really miss them. If they left when they were wonderful, when they were loving and generous and thoughtful and kind, as a parent, you’d be totally bereft.   

So kids go to college and become human again and as a parent, you start liking them again. And then they become wonderful. At least ours did.

Justin has been home for the past month or so, on a break from his tour. Where he was difficult during those terrible teen years, he’s a joy to have around now. Easy, personable. Smart as hell. He likes wine and conversation; he laughs easily and quickly. For Mother’s Day, he had a dozen roses delivered for me along with a lovely card. And today, before he left, another package arrived. He presented it to Kevin and I. We opened it and inside were four gorgeous wine glasses. Matching wine glasses. He had noticed that many of our pairs had become singles, had lost their mates. He thought it would be nice for us to have a nice set that we could use to entertain, that we could use on the deck for sunset, that would like nice and that we wouldn’t have to worry about breaking. These glasses are made with a slightly heavier stem; they’re harder to knock over. 

The point is he noticed. He’s thoughtful. He’s wonderful.

My new theory is better: Kids grow up and become teens and then they become people you like and respect and enjoy. They become equals. They become incredible. In our case, they become Justin.

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So this came in the mail

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 28, 2017 9:08 PM

Once upon a time, it was 1957. I was not yet born and wouldn’t be for several more years. This was back when a crooner named Perry Como was popular and that year he gave the world his second RCA Victor 12” long-play album. It was called We Get Letters and it was a concept record, based on requests from the singer’s television show. It was a soft, breezy record and did not include a song by the same name. Years later, David Letterman had a regular skit on his show where he sang, gleefully, “letters, we get letters” while opening his mail. 

This morning, Riley was on the deck and I was in my office, a ritual we engage in daily. He had just had a bath and was drying in the cool desert breeze; I was working. It was about 9:30. I had just taken a sip of coffee when suddenly, from the general direction of the deck, came the apoplectic barking and carrying on of my dog. I got up as I usually do and went to the door with the intention of asking what I usually ask when the dog is apoplectic. What is the issue? But before I got the door open I saw exactly what the issue was: trotting up the hill toward the house, as nice as you please, were two dogs, one a beagle, the other what looked to be a beagle mix.

I sprang into dog wrangling mode and headed toward the front door, yelling behind me that there were two dogs and for Kevin to grab a couple of leashes. As dog people, we have at least six leashes, only one of which do we use on a regular basis. Outside, I crouched down and in my friendliest voice called to the dogs who both came to me willingly. Kevin got the leashes, I attached them, and down the hill we went. 

I hadn’t met them but knew they were our new neighbor’s dogs because I knew they had beagles. I also know every other dog in the neighborhood. It’s not that big of a ‘hood. My neighbor, Alan, who had several workers at the house, couldn’t believe the dogs were out. 

“How…?” he asked, his question trailing off. 

“Gate’s open,” I said just as the worker – a pool guy – came in apologizing for leaving the gate open. 

Mission accomplished, I decided to head back up to the house. Alan remembered something as I started out the door. 

“Oh, hey,” he said. “I have some mail here. It has your house on it.” 

My house? How could that be? Someone was sending mail that showed my house? Our house? What? 

Alan handed me an oversized postcard and there, sure enough, in the place of honor taking up the top two thirds of the card, was the home we affectionately refer to as Il Sogno. The card had been sent by our architect/builder because our neighbors had pulled permits to build a house and he was advertising his services. Better late than never, since the house is already built and the card was stamped 4/18. 

So our house is being sent all over the city, perhaps further. We’re famous. Just like Perry Como. Without the crooning.

My husband's shorts

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 15, 2017 10:12 PM

We sold our house in Oak Park in July 2013 which meant that we were actually and finally going to move to Tucson, something we'd dreamed of doing since we bought our property in 2010. There was one issue: we had dirt but no place to live. And we had a month to get out of our house.

We booked a flight to Tucson for the following Saturday morning. And that's where it all started to go wrong. We got to the airport and waited at the gate. We were delayed. And then they changed gates and terminals. We dutifully followed the herd and waited some more. Finally they cancelled the flight. We scrambled to find something else but nothing was going to Tucson. We found a flight to Phoenix, and decided we'd do that and then drive the two hours.

We were supposed to meet our real estate agent/friend at 10 am. She had a bunch of interim places for us to look at where we could move and live while the house was being built. We finally got to her at 2:30. We had lost four plus hours, hours we needed that American Airlines stole.

We went to look at 13 houses. They were all fine, all in the price range but nothing seemed right. After leaving Stephanie and driving back to the Westward Look, where we were staying, we were quiet at first. Then we started to talk and then we started to fight. We weren't finding anything. Our day had been blown up, we were stressed and tired and hated our beloved Tucson.

The hotel had changed from our previous visits. It had been purchased by a big chain – I think Wyndham – and it had transformed from quaint to ordinary. Even the rooms seemed less charming. We went to the restaurant and ordered salads and a bottle of wine. The waitress who took our order had one tooth. There was a party going on in the bar, and it was rowdy. We ate a bit of our salads, then took our bottle of wine and went back to our room.

It was probably 9:30 by then. The black sky was lit up by lighting in the distance. We could smell rain. We hadn’t planned on being there long, literally just overnight, leaving early the next morning, so we hadn’t brought much with us. We stripped off the clothes that had become glued to us in the heat and disaster of the day. I pulled on a clean t-shirt, but hadn’t brought anything to lounge in. Luckily, we’d brought several pairs of shorts and boxers for Kevin – I have no idea why. I pulled on a pair of his boxers, grabbed the bottle and we went out onto the balcony to watch the sky, and wonder if we were about to make the biggest mistake of our lives. Both of us were wearing his shorts. 

Sitting in the cooling desert night, sipping a decent though not fabulous wine, we came to the conclusion that the reason we hadn’t liked anything was because none of the houses we’d looked at during the day were better than the house we were leaving. And while it was only going to be temporary, while our dream house was built, and even though they were all in the price range we’d requested, psychologically it bothered us that we were moving “down” in the world. 

The next morning, Kevin got up and went to the business center of the hotel, looked up rentals rather than places to buy, and we went and looked at several. One of them was perfect. Bigger than what we were leaving, relatively new, and for a rental price about what we paid in mortgage in Oak Park. This allowed us to keep all of the money we were going to invest in a temporary home and ultimately put it toward our eventual home. The trip was saved, our faith was restored. We caught a flight on that Sunday afternoon, and flew home to continue packing. 

I thought of that horrible weekend this morning when I finally got up. I’ve been burning the proverbial candle at both ends and at the nubs. We had company last night for sunset and tapas. Justin is home. I’m exhausted. Kevin let me sleep later than I had requested. He made an executive decision he told me once I finally got up. 

He and Justin had been on the deck having coffee and he must have seen me stirring. He came into the bedroom with a cup of a coffee as I was trying desperately to find a pair of loose, sloppy shorts to put on. Morning shorts. Everything was in the hamper reminding me that I needed to do laundry.

He went into the closet and grabbed a pair of his, and handed them to me. Big, sloppy, comfortable. And perfect.

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Time enough and then

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 8, 2017 8:55 PM

Last night I got run over by a truck with the license plate KJM 1954. Allow me to explain. Our neighbors had an impromptu BBQ and invited us down. It was casual. They were just going to throw some chicken and steaks on the grill, maybe boil some corn on the cob. I said I'd bring a salad. We also brought some wine. We arrived at around 6:30, just in time for sunset. We drank, we laughed, we ate, we drank some more.

This week, the roads in our neighborhood received a re-sealing. The board had decided to do something more elaborate than normal sealing because we're trying to make our roads last a bit longer before we have to do a complete redo. The roads went down in approximately 1998. Nearly 20 years later, they're not in horrific shape, but they aren't great. From Wednesday through late yesterday afternoon, Kevin worked with the asphalt company to ensure that the roads were all resealed beautifully.

He loves this stuff, my husband does. I remarked at one point that he should have been a contractor. For three mornings, he woke up early, donned his wide-brimmed hat, climbed into his Classic and zoomed to the front gate to make sure the gates were open. Then he'd spend time with the workers, showing them where they should be, driving the property to see what had been done, what was fine, what needed additional sealing. He was in his element. 

But by last night, he was toasted. Or as I like to say, toast that had been left in the toaster just a little too long. Off we went to the Roeslys for a Friday night soirée, and by about 9:30 I could tell that my little piece of toast was now completely burnt. I kept my hand on his arm, squeezing to make sure he didn't fall asleep since I thought that might be considered rude. When he does it at home, it's no big deal. But out in public, well – it might be frowned upon, even amongst friends.

By 10 o'clock I'd persuaded him to return home. I piled him into the Sport, climbed behind the wheel and off we went, up the driveway, around the cul de sac and then right up our road. It took us probably less than a minute. Once home, I poured him into the house and into bed. I did a bit of surfing and finding nothing worth watching and generally being tired myself, finally turned the TV off around 10:45. 

At 1:35, I woke up. I have no idea why. But Kevin wasn't in bed. I listened, and didn't hear anything. I called out – "honey?" Nothing. I got up and started through the house, calling his name. Still nothing. Then I started to panic. I knew he was in the house, but I figured I'd find him on the floor somewhere. Luckily, where I found him was asleep on the bed in the guest room. Tucked under the throw, one of the decorative pillows pulled close under his head. I gently woke him up, listened as he talked complete nonsense, and convinced him to come to bed. Where he snored and because I didn't want to wake him up, I listened for at least an hour and a half before exhaustion got the best of me and I finally fell asleep, fitfully. 

The poor guy. He was so spent, he had nothing left to give and yet his mind, playing tricks on him, compelled him to keep going, keep moving. 

He's amazing, my husband. He's conscientious, dedicated, focused. Everyone in the neighborhood just loves him and regularly gushes over what has happened since he managed to get the previous troll removed from the board. Now no one person is in charge. The three board members share responsibilities and they're getting things done. The amount that they've accomplished, from getting the lights at the front entrance working, to installing a new package mailbox, to weed control and general landscaping maintenance to now having the road done... everyone has noticed and everyone is thrilled. While they're all equal partners in making decisions, it's my husband who spearheads it all, who meets with contractors, who is completely engaged in the process, sometimes to the detriment of real work. But he loves it; he sees the progress. And it's noticed. It's recognized. It's rewarded.

Today, I've been just this side of zombie. Exhausted, not quite able to focus on anything worthwhile. Instead, we went to Lowes and spent a bunch of money on outdoor lighting and more furniture for the deck. We bought ceiling fans, and then went to the local nursery and bought plants, also for the deck. 

It was time. And it was a day when we were both tired, a little brain dead but still wanting to accomplish something. 

We sat outside tonight, as the sun was sinking and the wind was blowing, on our new chairs, sipping wine and listening to jazz. All I could think was that today, and tonight, at least we had time enough. Time enough to share, to enjoy, to be. And then... 

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Have you herd?

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 4, 2017 10:41 PM

So much of our joy these days comes from 3.8 acres. When we bought this property in 2010, we knew we’d found something special. We also knew that eventually we’d have to make the big decision and move, something we finally did in 2013. In the three years leading up to that, we visited our dirt, traversing the desolate landscape between California and Arizona. We’d bring a bottle of wine, pick up a pizza and drive out to our property. We’d picnic out of the back of the Range Rover as we watched the lights of the city sparkle and listened to the sounds of a desert in the darkness. 

We moved into our house in 2015. From up here on the hill, we can see most of the world. Our visibility stretches for at least 10 miles, perhaps more. I’m going by the app of my phone that regularly lists the visibility index. Down below, houses dot the landscape, nestled amongst saguaros, ocotillos, mesquite trees and the occasional palm. To the southwest, is the city. Beyond that, the Tucson Mountains carve into the sky. The Santa Ritas, the Rincons and the Catalinas do the same. Tucson is a desert paradise surrounded by four mountain ranges. It’s glorious. 

Up here on the hill, we are removed from everything. Tucked as we are in the far northeast corner of Pima County, we can literally see where the city-limits ends to the east. There is a line of demarcation at the base of the Rincons running directly south, pointed toward Mexico. 

We sit up here all day long, Kevin in his office that faces east and southeast, me in mine that faces west southwest, and we work. Riley spends his mornings and evenings on the deck, watching the desert go by.

We have come to love our patch of land in the Sonoran, with its spikey fauna, and biting creatures. We absorb it; it becomes part of us every day. 

Including on days like this that begin with those biting creatures at 6 am. Let me set the stage. It was 5:55. The sky was just fading from darkness to light, painted gray. I was faintly asleep having spent yet another restless night. This is my life these days. I wake up in the night; I’m awake for at least an hour. Then I toss and turn and try to get comfortable, temperature-wise. 

I had just rolled onto my side and pulled up the covers, finally cool enough to burrow. And it started. The growl followed by the scramble and the bark and the bark and the bark. Riley scrambled out of his bed and raced toward the bathroom, howling, barking, whining. It was early and we weren’t quite ready to be up but up we were. 

I got up first as Kevin cussed softly from his side of the bed. I went to find Riley who was wedged between the bathtub and the windows, positively glued to what was outside and barking his fool head off. 

I asked what the problem was, what the issue was, what the hell was going on? And then I looked outside. One after another after another, javelina, of all sizes and shapes, were climbing up from the desert below, clamoring up the swale, sauntering across the driveway, stopping to strike a pose.

There were at least nine that I saw. A herd. And I’m not sure how Riley actually heard them since the windows were closed. Still, there they were, standing, posing, looking javelina-ish, odd-looking creatures that they are. And all I could think was – dog, I love this place.

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live out loud

A guy and a girl walk into a bar

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 22, 2017 10:21 PM

There used to be a place in Woodland Hills called Yankee Doodle. It was ostensibly a pool hall but I didn’t know that 22 years ago when I made arrangements to meet someone there for a drink. He was coming down from Chatsworth; I was already working in Woodland Hills and since he lived in Woodland Hills, it seems the perfect city if not an OK place to meet. 

I got there just after the pre-determined time of six because a lady likes to make an entrance. I was wearing a long skirt and a turtleneck sweater; boots. I was still thin then and I could actually tuck the sweater into the skirt and not look bulky. I had purposely dressed this way. I looked nice but not like I was trying too hard to be dressed up for a date. Truth be told, I didn’t really care much about going. It was more out of curiosity that I was there.

I parked my Mazda MX-6, a car I had already come to hate and I’d only had it for about three months, in the Yankee Doodle parking lot at Canoga and Victory, sighed heavily, and walked up to the front door. Opening it, I recognized him immediately. He was already there, waiting. Still tall and thin, still with very dark hair, almost black. I don’t remember if we shook hands, or exchanged an awkward hug. We already knew each other vaguely so it wouldn’t have been out of the question. More likely, we simple acknowledged each other’s presence. Quickly deducing that the place was not conducive to having a drink and talking, he suggested Monty’s on the Boulevard. We drove there in his truck. 

In those days, I was a divorcee and rather enjoying my single-hood after so many years with one who turned out to be wrong. I dated a lot, but no one for very long. The longest ended up being a very nice guy named David. We were together for four, maybe five months. We had even talked about him traveling with me at Christmas to visit my family. I broke up with him in early December. 

At the time of my date 22 years ago, I was actually seeing someone else. Obviously it wasn’t serious since I was open to going out with someone else. I knew the guy I was dating wasn’t right. We’d been friend for years, and he’d taken me to Cabo San Lucas at the end of January for a getaway that was supposed to be wonderful but turned out to be miserable. I had developed a reputation of not dating anyone for very long and losing interest quickly. But what could possibly go wrong with meeting someone I’d known peripherally years earlier for a cocktail? 

Monty’s on the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Topanga Canyon was and remains a steak house with a terrific bar. It’s been there forever and while I’d never visited, he had. I was fine with the choice. I was only going to have one drink anyway. It didn’t much matter where we went a long as there was a comfortable bar stool. 

A drink turned into appetizers turned into a pizza turned into closing the place The piano player in the bar was every bit the loungy player one would expect in a bar, though Monty’s is by no means a dive bar. It’s very upscale. By midnight, as the place was shutting down, the piano player started playing MacArthur’s Park and my date and I sang along, laughing that we both knew the words. Enjoying the hell out of ourselves.

That night was 22 years ago. The guy was Kevin. We’ve been inseparable ever since. Tonight we’re celebrating our first date anniversary. It’s corny, we know, but we do it every year. We may even break out in song, and I don’t think that I can take it….

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live out loud

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