A morning at the beach

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 2, 2015 10:06 PM

My mother’s friend Gregg loves to buy houses. Over the course of the 30 some years they’ve been together, he has bought and restored at least six. Some he has also gone on to resell. The first one, where my mother met him, was an old school house on a hill in Amherst. He made it into a lovely, eclectic little house. My mother lived there with my younger sister for a while.

When she moved into that, he bought an old Federal style house in Wilton and restored it to its former glory. It sat impossibly close to the road as many New England houses do because it’s easier to shovel out in the winter. He eventually sold both of those pieces of property.

He bought an old barn in Greensboro and turned it into a home. It’s an amazing place, with a number of garages on the bottom level, a main floor with a living/great room and kitchen, and a powder room. On one end is a screened porch looking out over his 22 or more acres including the pond; on the other end is a huge glass slider. The barn doors are still there, too, and serve to close the house off to the world. In the winter, it helps keep the warm in and cold out. Upstairs are two bedrooms and two baths. The master bedroom is open to the great room below, making it almost loft-like.

Adjacent to the property is a small cabin. When that came on the market, he bought that, too, remodeling it to make it a weekend getaway for folks traveling through the area. He only rented it out that way a couple of times. Eventually he put full-time renters in it. It’s small, one room in the front serving as the living space and bedroom, then a kitchen and a bath. A stream gurgles nearby.

In both of these properties he has numerous antique amusement park rides, an old Chevy from the 1930s, an old Mazda RX7 from the early 1980s, and other pieces. In the living spaces, authentic time pieces, antiques, are the norm. He’s going to sell these properties because of a recent purchase up in Maine. It’s the first time he’s ventured out of New Hampshire.

He also bought an old business building in Wilton that he has transformed into a house. It sits on a river as well, one that rushes by and gathers with melting snow and falling rain. The train runs impossibly close. My brother rents this house and he’s happy as can be.

Most of Gregg’s houses have been very typical of what you might find in New England. Old, historic, surrounded by lots of trees, parts of a postcard you drove through once or saw in a Norman Rockwell retrospective. But the house he just bought, in South Berwick, Maine is decidedly different. And it is this house that seems to have captivated him the most.

I don’t know Gregg that well. For as long as he has been around our family, he remains somewhat of an enigma to me because I have always lived far away. I am not there for the Christmas Eves or the 4th of Julys. I hear about what he’s doing from my mother. When I’m home during my once a year pilgrimages, we go to one of his houses. For years, it was the barn. Now it’s the Maine house.

It’s situated on the river that separates New Hampshire from Maine. From his property, you can see Dover. He looked for something on the coast for quite a while but couldn’t find anything he liked for what he wanted to spend. This house came available and he bought it before it hit MLS.

Other than being in Maine, what sets this house apart is that it’s contemporary. A single story, hard wood floors, lots of windows, a sleek design, built not that long ago. They both love it, my mom and Gregg. He’s been doing a bit of stuff but it didn’t need any remodeling, just some touches. One of those touches was mucking out a cove at the river’s edge. By doing that, he created a beach. He has since emptied a number of sand bags onto his newly formed beach. My mother purchased several small chairs and a table. They sit down there, feet in the sand, watching the summer boats dash across the river, the kayakers row to and fro; the birds.

I thought of them this morning as Kevin and I sat on our “beach,” our deck, in our beach chairs, our Adirondacks, watching our birds, listening to our waves. It was just another morning at the beach, and worth celebrating.

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live out loud

Little things like strawberry buttermilk pancakes

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 4, 2015 8:38 PM

I am not a pancake person. I always think they’re heavy, that they just sit in your stomach forever and make you feel fat. But every once in awhile they seem to be just what’s needed. Such was the case this morning. We woke up early, as is the norm these days as we don’t yet have window coverings and are seriously considering never having them. We had a bit of coffee, then went for a walk. It’s the first Saturday we’ve had in over a year and a half when we didn’t have anything we absolutely had to get accomplished. We have unpacking to do, sure; and I had to go to the grocery store since we’re getting low on just about everything. But nothing was urgent. It was about stuff we wanted to do.

After our walk, we trudged up our very steep drive – we’re going to be in great shape in a month or so – and decided we were hungry. I always make a big breakfast on Sundays. It’s become a bit of a tradition, with some sort of egg dish, turkey bacon or chicken sausage, fruit, coffee. Kevin sometimes makes Bloody Marys. But as it was Saturday, and I still wanted to do eggs tomorrow, we decided to make pancakes.

Two years ago for Christmas my mom sent a care package. It was filled with a number of goodies from New Hampshire, including the best caramel corn we’ve ever had (we’ve reordered it several times) and a buttermilk pancake mix. As I said, I’ve never been big on pancakes. That was a Kevin and Justin thing. Many times when Justin was growing up and had a buddy or two sleep over, Kevin would man the kitchen the morning after to whip up some of Dad’s World Famous Pancakes. I would sit quietly in the other room with coffee and the newspaper. Let the boys have their time and gluttony together.

Perhaps my aversion to pancakes stems for the Infamous Parker’s Pancake Incident that my mother often recounts but that I have chosen not to recall. Evidently when I was a senior in high school and my Aunt Barbara was visiting, we all decided to go to a pancake place in New Hampshire called Parker’s Maple Barn. I don’t really remember Parker’s but I have heard over the years that they are located in Mason, some half hour or so from where we lived in Amherst, and that they make a mean breakfast, and specifically pancakes.

Being a teenager I was surly to begin with. I hated going anywhere with my family, especially early on a Sunday morning (which was probably closer to 11) and evidently I was missing my boyfriend. I hadn’t heard from him, and I was being taken away from the phone and so I behaved badly. To the point where everyone piled back into the car, took me home and then all returned – sans the offensive one – to have pancakes.

There’s a reason I’ve chosen not to remember the Infamous Parker’s Pancake Incident. If I did, I would be mortified. As it is, I’m horribly embarrassed.

So pancakes and I have history and it’s not pretty. Nevertheless, this buttermilk pancake mix that my mother sent and has re-sent several times, is killer. Light, fluffy, lovely. While Kevin was working in his office, I started breakfast. I mixed up the batter which only needs water but if you want them extra fluffy, calls for one egg as well. We had some strawberries so I sliced some up and mixed them in. Melted some butter on the griddle, got some syrup warming, some sausages sizzling, and proceeded to make pancakes. They weren’t Mom’s World Famous, and definitely a far cry from Dad’s but they weren’t bad.

Parker’s might even let me back into the building should I ever choose to show my face there again. Because after all this time I've realized, it's the little things in life that are sometimes worth celebrating the most. 

On today’s menu

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 1, 2015 9:40 PM

On January 15, 1967, the Green Bay Packers played the Kansas City Chiefs and won. They also played in 1968, beating the Oakland Raiders. These games were the first between the best in the NFL, which had been around since 1920, and the fledgling AFL, which started in 1960. Eventually, the NFL became the governing body over the NFC and the AFC. Every year since 1967, which was the culmination of the 1966 season, two teams have met to play the rough, tough and mean game of football known as the Super Bowl.

We watch every year. Sometimes we watch alone, sometimes with just another couple. Sometimes we go to a party. One year we had a party. We had probably 20 people in the house to watch the New York Patriots lose by a field goal to the New York Giants. The house was rocking, the sound was up loud, pumped through all of the surround sound speakers. The next Sunday, the mirror that had been above the fireplace crashed down between Kevin and I as we were watching television. I don’t think it was because of the Super Bowl party, though I remember thanking dog that it hadn’t happened the week before when we had people sitting on the floor in what would have been the direct path of the mirror. Someone, literally, could have been killed. We haven’t had a Super Bowl party since.

I love the Super Bowl. I love football even though I know I probably shouldn’t since it perpetuates violence and injuries. Everybody loves football, including the players. We were watching Real Sports with Bryant Gumble on HBO the other night and he was profiling the 1985 Chicago Bears, the brash, wildly successful and popular team who also, coincidentally, beat my Pats. The Bears won the Super Bowl that year (played in January of 1986) but never got their White House welcome because just after, the space shuttle Challenger exploded on lift off. It was just a couple of months ago that members of that team, of Super Bowl Shuffle fame (which got to number 49 on the pop charts), got to go to the White House where they were celebrated by President Obama. It was fitting, since Obama is also a huge football fan, and from Chicago. Jim McMahon is in the early stages of dementia. William “the refrigerator” Perry can hardly walk anymore. Walter Payton is dead. It was a sad commentary on what happens after the greatness.

As much as I love football, and the Super Bowl in general, I think I almost love what’s on the menu for the game better. While Super Bowl Sunday parties are not official holidays, they have become de facto celebrations for everyone, even people who are not huge football fans. My mother, who never particularly cared about football but has come to love her Patriots (she, along with all of my family, live in New England), goes to a Super Bowl party every year. I think it’s great. They have pulled pork and potato salad and lots and lots of beer. My mother doesn’t drink beer, or much of anything for that matter. I assume she probably has her usual half of a half a glass of wine.

Interesting Super Bowl Sunday is the second largest day for eating in the country, clocking in right after Thanksgiving. Lots of booze is consumed as well. Places that deliver pizza see their numbers double. According to Wikipedia, roughly 60 percent of the take-out food ordered on Super Bowl Sunday is pizza. Also roughly 28 million pounds of chips are eaten, 90 million chicken wings are consumed and 8 million pounds of guacamole is scooped up.

We’re having chicken wings. I’m also making my world famous tuna dip, though I’ll be serving it with cucumber slices instead of chips. I’m trying to be a little healthy. We don’t drink beer but I suspect much wine will be consumed. And then the game will be over and someone will have won and I will either be elated or disappointed. Either way, I’ll have another glass of wine and move on, celebrating another season of cheering out loud.

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My dad's gloves

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 15, 2014 8:15 PM

When my dad died in May of 2002, one of the morbid chores to be done was cleaning out his house. As I didn’t live there and wanted to help as much as possible, I went in right away to get started. My mother went with me; I honestly can’t remember if my brother and sister were there. It’s not surprising. The entire week happened in a bit of a fog.

We cleaned out his refrigerator and his kitchen in general. We went through closets, stripped the bed. I remember my mother asking me if there was anything of his that I wanted to take, things to keep him close to me. I’m not overly sentimental, and honestly didn’t know what I wanted. I don’t generally covet things that belong to others, including my parents. The truth is, I needed no reminder of him. I took some of his medals, the ones he had received for tennis, maybe basketball or baseball. I took a game set that he kept in his living room though I have no idea why. When we went through his hall closet, my mother asked me if maybe Kevin would like his leather coat. I said I thought that would be nice.

The coat is sport coat length; it zips up the front. It’s a deep, chocolate brown leather, soft and sophisticated. I think my brother might have bought it for my dad several years earlier, as a Christmas present. I don’t ever remember seeing my dad in the coat but I wasn’t there very often in the winter. It smelled of leather but it also smelled of my dad, his spicy aftershave and stale tobacco. We boxed up the coat along with several other items, including the game box, and addressed it to me in California. It wasn’t until after I left New England to go back to the West coast that it occurred to me that maybe Kevin might think it was morbid, essentially getting willed my dead father’s coat.

He didn’t end up thinking that at all. He loved the coat. It was a little big on him – Kevin is not quite a tall as my dad and not nearly as thick – but it looked good. He zipped it up, put his hands into the large flapped pockets in the front and pulled out a pair of black gloves. My dad’s gloves.

My dad's gloves, on our 1935 radio, atop the two record recording of A Christmas Carol

While I didn’t remember the coat, I did remember the gloves. My dad had them for years. Black leather with raised ribs of texture on the fingers. They were short, as if perhaps they were driving gloves. There was a very soft lining, nothing that would necessarily keep his hands warm, but enough to ward off the chill when inside the car or walking to dinner. Kevin put them on. It was strange to see gloves I remembered so well on my husband’s hands now on my husband’s. It was also comforting.

Kevin wears the coat when it’s cold and we’re going out somewhere nice. He wears the gloves all the time, and especially in the cold desert mornings when we walk Cooper. This morning he had them on and asked me if my dad had small hands. I said I didn’t remember him having small hands. My dad was a fairly good size man. 6’2”, 225 pounds. His hands had a broad expanse across the knuckles. His fingers may not have been as long as Kevin’s but his hands weren’t small.

He must have used these for driving, Kevin decided. The leather is too soft and unworn, even though they were worn a lot, to have ever seen harsh climate or hard work. My dad used to keep a pair of big, thick, heavy-duty gloves in the car, Kevin said, so that he could dust off the car, scrape the ice off the windows, dig himself out of wherever he happened to be. When he’d get in the car, he’d throw those gloves in the back and put on another, lighter pair.

I could see my dad doing that. He didn’t have a garage so his Jeep Grand Cherokee sat in front of his home, always out in the elements. When it snowed, and it did often as he lived in the mountains, I imagined he would put on a pair of snowmobile gloves. That he’d pull the scraper from the back. That he’d zip up his heavy ski jacket and ready the car to drive. That he’d throw those gloves onto the passenger seat while he drove. That maybe then he’d put on these other gloves, these gloves that my husband now wears. My father’s gloves. Every time he does, I see my dad’s hands and I remember. Maybe I’m more sentimental than I thought.

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A busy busy day

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 15, 2014 7:47 PM

I was gone last weekend so that means the amount of stuff I have to do today has compounded exponentially. I don’t know if that’s the right word but it sounds good and intelligent so I’m going with it.

Last week at this time, I was writing my blog from the backseat of my sister’s Jeep Grand Cherokee as we sped along toward Maine. Down Maine as the locals say. On our way to see Gregg’s new house in South Berwick, just over the border of New Hampshire. It was cold. You could feel winter in the air. It was just over the horizon, waiting for the opportune time to make an appearance. Today, it’s cool here, too, but nowhere near what it was seven days ago on the other coast. It will probably get to 70º today before it gives up. Last week, back east, the high was about 48º.

Last night I started on my growing To-Do-This-Weekend list by going to the grocery store. Because I was gone last weekend, we had almost nothing in the house. The cupboards, as the saying goes, were bare. I have gotten in the habit of going to the grocery store just once a week and doing a big order. The weekend before I went to Nump’sha, I had bought stuff for Kevin and I and then also stuff for Kevin to eat while I was gone. I cook every night; I knew he wouldn’t cook for himself. He ate it all. This past week, I employed some supreme creativity. Finding things in the freezer I could use along with other things in the pantry and in the vegetable drawer to make meals.

Today I am busy busy, which is exponentially busier than simply busy. Two busys are not necessarily better than one but there you go.

I’m going to the tile store to check on a slab of granite that was supposed to come in as well as to see about them ordering a particular type of tile they told us they could get forever ago but that we thought we might be able to find somewhere else cheaper. We can’t. I’m hoping they can still get it. Otherwise we’re back to square foot one for what we want to put on our vanity counters.

I need to go to another tile store that has black honed granite which we want to use for the back splash in the kitchen. Honed is non-shiny. I share that because it was news to me. This particular tile store also has the tile we want for our showers. I may order them both while I’m there.


The sun sets on a busy busy day in the OP

I have to go to Floor and Décor, the new flooring superstore, to buy two stone sinks. They have the best price, and believe me, we’ve looked. We need one for the guest room, another for the ¾ bath.

I need to go to Home Goods. I’m still in search of mirrors for the vanities in the master bath. I haven’t yet been successful but last week when I was in Home Goods with my mother in New Hampshire, I saw some that were actually pretty cool. With any luck the one I’m going to here will have something similar if not identical. If they do, I’m buying two.

I have to go to Dunn-Edwards to look at and hopefully buy paint samples for the interior of the house. We’re looking at a light desert sand; no white. But finding the right shade is important. Can’t be too yellow or too orange or too brown or too white.

I’m starting everything off by washing my two rovers. The Range Rover is already in the driveway, waiting. It’s filthy and I don’t like my car filthy. I’ll wash it, then move it to the street so it can sit in the sun a bit and have the water evaporate. No matter how much I dry that car, water still manages to ooze out. I have long said that it holds water like a woman. I can say that with some understanding, as I am a woman.

The other rover, Master Cooper, will be next. He needs a bath and a trim, especially since we’re going out of town in a few weeks. He needs to be handsome, and he needs to be clean. He’s good when he gets a bath. I’ll suds him up, rinse him and towel him off. He’ll race around the back yard celebrating himself and all will be right with the world.

It’s a busy busy day here in the Old Pueblo and I’m living it out loud.

Taking flight

by Lorin Michel Thursday, November 6, 2014 7:03 PM

The weather has warmed again. The nights cool rather than cold and only because there is no sun. As the sun paints the day in color, the temperature rises steadily until it becomes 75º. There it hovers like a hawk, waiting to see if it can swoop toward 80 or if it must wait another day. This is the kind of weather and the time of year when I get a cold. I'm waiting. It's not that I want a cold but it's tradition and who am I to argue?

This morning I woke up at 5:11. It was still dark; the fan fluttering overhead the only sound. Through the open window I heard a whir and thought maybe the sprinklers were coming on. I can't remember the last time the sprinklers ran. It made sense that they might splinter to life. It was a motorcycle out on Campbell, coming down from the foothills, racing south. It crescendoed and then flew past in search of its destination.

At 5:45 I got up. I sat on the edge of the bed in the still gray morning, my feet dangling above the floor. I studied the arch of each foot for no reason at all. I wondered what it would be like to have flat feet. I heard the coffee maker begin, gurgling, steam escaping with a sigh.

By 6:50 I was ready to go. I had showered, dressed, even put on a touch of makeup. My bags were packed, I surveyed the room, ran through a mental checklist and decided that I thought I had everything. If I didn't I would buy what I needed once I arrived.

We drove to the airport as the sun smothered the desert, chatting about the house, about Cooper, about what my boys would be doing while I jetted east. I kissed my husband as I stood at the curb, the handle of my carry on up and ready to roll, secure in my hand. He got in the car and pulled away, driving north. I walked into the airport to fly east toward the still rising sun.

By the time I get to Manchester, the sun will have gone past me on its way into the Pacific. It will warm the earth but not the sky. It will paint my beloved desert in reds, golds and purple. As I walk through the airport and out into the New England evening, it will be after 5, perhaps 5:11. It will be cold, perhaps raining. I will pull my rust and red eyelash scarf from my bag and drape it across my shoulders where it will provide no warmth. My mother will be there at the curb and my weekend visit will officially begin.

In the dark sky I will see the lights of airplanes. I will hear the faint hum of their powerful engines. I will watch their wings as they dip west and I will wish them safe flight. 

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Tomorrow I travel

by Admin Wednesday, November 5, 2014 7:49 PM

Tonight I pack. Tomorrow I journey to visit the family. I haven’t been back to New England in years and it’s time even though I don’t really have time to be away. There’s never a good time to go anywhere though. I’ve started to think that the only way to make it a good time is to do it spontaneously which doesn’t work because a) I can’t get a good price on a flight and 2) there probably aren’t any flights available short notice anyway.

Whenever I plan to go anywhere, I dread it. For weeks. It doesn’t matter if it’s Hawaii, Cabo San Lucas or Pittsburgh. The dreading occurs because of the hassle factor. It’s nearly impossible to take extended periods of time off because I don’t have anyone else to do my work. It’s how I like it but it does make vacations more difficult. Years ago, after I was done complaining to my dad about how busy I was, he paused and asked: “Honey, can’t you hire someone?” Oh, how I wish. The problem is that people hired me to do their writing. If they had wanted someone else, they would have hired someone else. It would be like choosing a particular surgeon to do your operation only to have that surgeon pass it off to another.

I’ve been dreading this trip too. Not because I don’t want to go or because I don’t want to see my family. I actually want both. But I’ve just been slammed lately and it makes me very stressed to be planning to go away. Once I’m there, everything will be fine. And sheesh, it’s only for two days. Still, I stress. I don’t sleep. I’ll get off the plane tomorrow and I’ll look like death warmed over and my family will look at me and think “whoa, she looks terrible. And old. And bad.” I like to look good when I see people I haven’t seen for a long time, even family who will love me regardless. I like to look successful and put together. But last night I didn’t sleep, and tomorrow I have to get up early. I will be a mess when I deplane in Manchester.

My workload has actually gotten a bit better the last few days. This is good. It’s like the universe saying that it’s really OK to take two whole days off. But I still have too much to do. And I’m building a house. Actually, finishing a house. We were informed by Mike Mike Mike (in honor of it being hump day) on Friday that the building phase has officially ended. We passed inspection. We’re now full-speed to completion and that means decisions. Tile, and stone, and hearths for the fireplaces; and choosing the slabs of granite, and the countertop tile for the bathrooms and the vanity lights; and deciding on stucco color and interior paint color; and picking door handles and light switch covers; and and and.

Every day it’s something. Today was a discussion about exterior stone and where we’re going to get it since what we thought we were going to go with we’ve decided we don’t like well enough. Then the CAD drawing of the front door came in and we have to make adjustments to that. And we talked to the fabricator at the kitchen place who will be cutting our slabs since we inspected them yesterday and like the color very much but there’s a fissure at the top of one and we were concerned that it might open up.

And and and

It’s hard to go away when there is so much going on. But it’s hard not to see my family for long periods of time, and while I would love for them to come visit me, it makes more sense for me to go back there. That way I get to see everyone at once. Hopefully they’ll all plan individual trips out here after the first of year, when the weather is miserable in New England and glorious out west.

Tonight I pack. I will think about what I need and what I want to wear. I will lay it all out on the bed and then I will cut it in half so that it fits into a carry-on. I’ll gather the work I’m taking with me. I’ll make sure I have all my power cords and a book. Tomorrow I travel. I will see my mother and my sister and my brother, my niece and nephew and brother-in-law. I’ll see mom’s cat Chow Maine, and my sister’s dog Lucky. I’ll meet the new dog-addition, Lindy. I’ll relax and talk and show pictures. The dread will turn to enjoyment. It will be a time to celebrate being together, a time to live it out loud.

Never too early to start thinking about football

by Lorin Michel Thursday, April 24, 2014 9:08 PM

I am a football fan. I know that has become a bit controversial of late, especially with the brutal and continuing injuries not to mention the sustained damage those injuries cause for the rest of the players' lives. I remember reading somewhere and years ago about a player trying to get out of bed in the morning and walk across the room. It’s a painful and horrific experience, their bodies racked with arthritis from the time they’re in their early 40s, having already long retired. It has stayed with me. It's a brutal sport and I cringe when I see hits like the one the Browns’ TJ Ward threw at Rob Gronkowski took last season, the one that blew out his knees, tearing the ACL and the NCL on one.

Also Wes Welker, I'm looking at you for the hit on Aqib Talib. Wessie, Wessie, Wessie. I hardly knew ye.

But I remain a fan regardless. I scream and yell at the TV. I stand in the middle of the room and hold my breath during much of a Patriot's game.

Several years ago, Kevin and I went to Chicago in December specifically to see my Patriots battle his Bears at Soldier Field. It was the second time we had traveled to Chicago in December for a football game. Los Angeles doesn't have a football team. We don't like San Diego and we never thought too much about going up to San Francisco. We both like the 49ers, though less so now because we're not fans of Jim Harbaugh, the coach. We remain committed to the teams of our youth. His Bears and my Pats. Notice the ownership. They belong to us.

The first time we went I don't think we were even married yet and I surprised him with tickets for his birthday (which is December 8). It was Bears vs Bills. Chicago won.

In the game against the Patriots, the Pats wiped the field with da Bears. Whiteout conditions. Couldn't hardly see the field. -23º at kickoff. Final score 35 to 7. It was an amazing experience.

We have never been to Foxborough, otherwise know as Gillette Stadium, the home field for the Patriots. The 2014 schedule was announced today, or at least today was when I found it. On October 26th at 1 pm, Bears at Patriots. I immediately texted my sister: If we come, will you and John go to the game with us?

Her response: Hell, yes!

Tickets don't go on sale until July. I already have it in my calendar. If we can get tickets, we'll fly in Thursday, spend Friday and Saturday with my family in New Hampshire. On Sunday we'll go to the game, then head into Boston where we'll spend the night and fly out the next morning. That's the plan. If we can get tickets. Fingers crossed.

Because it's never too early to start thinking about football and celebrating the idea of seeing a rematch between my Pats and his Bears. We'll be screaming it out loud at Foxborough and enjoying every minute of it, regardless of the weather and regardless of who wins. We're already ready for some football. Are you?

Chasing the sun

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 7, 2014 11:29 PM

Much of the country is in the deep freeze thanks to the Polar Vortex that has swept down and across the Midwest, into the deep south and on up the east coast. I read today where Anchorage, Alaska was only 34º and expecting rain while places in Louisiana are freezing and losing the citrus crops that usually do fine at this time of the year. Places in Minnesota were flirting with 62º below zero, Chicago and many parts of Wisconsin weren’t far behind. It’s been so cold and miserable that airlines have canceled some 6,000 flights over the last few days because it’s too dangerous to takeoff and land. There is ice to contend with, both on the wings and on the runways.  The wings can be taken care of with de-icing equipment but the runways are a different story. Fuel is also difficult to get into the planes when it’s this cold.

People are suffering; some have died. Dogs are wearing coats and booties. Everything is frozen, and gray. Bitter. I worry especially about the homeless. I’m sure the shelters are over-flowing; I hope they’re letting people sleep on the floor. I read a story about a couple whose son had gone missing and was spotted in a photograph taken by a photojournalist chronicling the homeless during this cold snap. The son was huddled around a steam vent in New York, trying to keep warm and no doubt failing. I don’t think it’s possible to keep warm outside in this kind of weather.

As I do so often when it’s impossibly cold in the Midwest and the northeast, I wonder how it is that people live there. Having lived there myself until I was 22, I know it can be done. I just don’t understand why. I remember visiting one holiday season many years ago when my dad was still alive. We were going to be having a holiday meal at my mother’s house and my dad wanted to watch a football game. He didn’t like my mother’s television so he gave us the money to buy a new one. The only catch was that we had to go get it.

Mom and I took my brother’s Bronco and off we went to Walmart, perhaps the first and last time I ever shopped there. As it was the holidays, it was pretty crazy inside but we found a television and one of the workers said he’d meet us outside the front entrance to load it up. We pulled the truck up to the entrance and sure enough the kid was there with the TV, only I couldn’t get the back hatch open. It took what seemed like a half hour. In reality it was probably only minutes. The wind was howling, the sky was gray, the air arctic. The kid was in shirt sleeves and looking at me with murder in his eyes. I finally got the back open, he loaded the TV and I got back into the cab where my mother was waiting. I looked at her, and felt an uncontrollable shiver flow through me. Shaking, I gripped the wheel.

“How do you people live here?”


The St. Joseph's Lighthouse on Lake Michigan where it was -50

I honestly didn’t and don’t know the answer. I watched the Green Bay football game over the weekend. They had been predicting dangerous cold, the kind of weather where frostbite can set in quickly, within minutes. It was 3º at kickoff and dropped slightly thereafter.

I feel marginally guilty here in the desert where the days have hovered in the low to mid 60s. Even for here, that’s cold. It’s not bitter, nor, I realize, dangerous. The sun is brighter just in the fact that it’s shining. It’s not shining in much of the country right now. But it’s warm streaming through my windows.

Every morning, Cooper begins his chase to catch the sun. He starts in the western corner of my office, near my guitar case. That’s where the first rays land when they come in from the east. Soon the sun moves so he moves, too, closer to me. As the sun moves across the sky each day and the trajectory of its rays changes as well, Cooper’s position changes with it, finally ending up with his butt against the chair on the east side of my office, catching the last bit of warmth of the day.

If I could package this chase and send it to the coldest places in the country so that they could partake in the warmth, or at least in the cuteness, I would. I have no doubt that they’re chasing the sun, too. I hope they find it soon; I hope the thaw can begin. 

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A sucker for da Bears

by Lorin Michel Sunday, September 8, 2013 10:29 PM

As anyone who is not living on another planet knows, today was the first official Sunday of the football season. Naturally, my team was not on any of the national games and when that happens, I follow it on NFL.com, largely because I’m cheap and won’t pay the ridiculous amount of money to get the NFL network, or even to get the audio. I love my Patriots but not that much. I suppose some could argue that I’m not much of a fan, but I beg to differ. I follow it; I cheer. It’s just easier on my blood pressure to not always have to watch.

The other team we follow closely in Chez Michel is the Chicago Bears, affectionately known as da Bears. They were the early game on CBS today, against the Bengals, fulfilling two thirds of the famous Wizard of Oz intonation: lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

I always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Bears largely because of the way they decimated my Patriots back in the 1985 Super Bowl. That was, of course, the year of the Super Bowl Shuffle. It was arrogant and as it turns out, prescient. They destroyed my Pats 46 to 10. Sad, that.

I didn’t have Kevin at that point but the Bears had a thuggish style that you had to admire as a football fan even if I didn’t particularly cheer them on. That all changed when I met Kevin who hails from Chicago. As a Chicagoan, he exerts his dog-given right to bitch and moan and kvetch about his beloved team every time they’re on. I have come to understand that this is how all Chicago fans behave. It is how they roll in the Windy City. Bears are up by 21 with three minutes left in the game? They’ll find a way to screw it up. A good play is met with howls of yeah but what about the next pass. It’s like they set themselves up to be failures just in case.

I asked Kevin once why the Bears are so beloved and so reviled at once. He tried, valiantly, to explain:

“It’s because they almost always suck. But they’re our suck.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. He explained further:

“The Halas family is cheap and won’t pay good money to hire marquee players. So we have to put up with it and we love our Bears but we don’t love the management style.”

The Halas family refers to the descendants of George who purchased the team in 1921 from the A. E. Staley starch company for $100, thus beginning the era of cheap. Halas was also their coach for a number of years. He retired in 1967 and when he died in 1983, he left controlling interest, or 80% of the team, to his eldest child Virginia Halas McCaskey. She’s 90 years old and according to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, the McCaskey family – the heirs to George Halas – intend to maintain ownership and control of the Bears franchise for the foreseeable future.

The Bears do occasionally luck onto a good player. They currently have a decent quarterback in Jay Cutler. They have the amazing Matt Forte, as long as he’s healthy. And they, along with their teammates, fill Soldier Field for every home game, regardless of the weather. To this I can attest since we were there several years ago for a game in early December when da Bears were hosting the Patriots. We watched the pre-game stuff from the hotel. The weather was horrific; white-out blizzard conditions and Soldier Field is an outdoor stadium. The announcers were all saying how the weather favored the Bears, as if there was no way the Patriots, from New England, could handle the snow. We went to the stadium, which was packed, and watched the Pats demolish the Bears, 35 – 7. Payback. I felt vindicated.

Today, the Bears, who still wear a GSH on their sleeves, for George S. Halas, beat the tigers. I was cheering them on every yard of the way. Because I’m a sucker for the constantly down on its luck team from my favorite city.

Celebrating da Bears win today. Of course, they’ll probably lose next week.

See? A true fan.

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live out loud

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