A pack mentality

by Lorin Michel Friday, January 23, 2015 9:14 PM

My grandparents on my mother’s side evidently moved a lot. My mother often referred to them as gypsies. My grandmother was always restless, always looking for something else, but never quite sure what it was. While they moved a lot, they never moved far. They were always in the vicinity of Pittsburgh and its suburbs. It’s one of the reasons why when we went to Pittsburgh to visit, we always stayed with my mother’s aunts, Beryl and Eleanor. They were always in the same house and there was always room.

My grandmother on my dad’s side never moved. My dad was raised in the same house that my grandmother lived in until she died. My parents friends Charlotte and Ed, who bought the house next to us in Fairview, Pennsylvania when I was about six, still live in that house, though my mom just told me that Ed is in a nursing home, recovering from a fall. He’s in his 90s.

When I was a kid, we moved quite a bit because my dad kept getting promoted and transferred. We started out in a very small apartment in Eldred, Pennsylvania but I think we only lived there a year or two. Then we moved to Erie, PA, to another apartment. My brother was born and we moved again, though I don’t think he necessarily had anything to do with it. We still stayed in the Erie area, moving to the aforementioned Fairview. From there we moved to Staatsburg, New York, then to Hyde Park, New York. We were in New York for about six years before we moved to Columbia, Maryland for a year, then to New England where all of my family – save for me – still resides. I moved to Durham, New Hampshire to go to college. Immediately after I graduated I moved to San Diego where I lived for a year, then to Scottsdale, Arizona where I lived for another year, then to the Los Angeles area where I moved a total of six times in 27 years.

In 2013, we moved to Tucson. Now we’re getting ready to move again, to the home we moved to Tucson for.

Each of these moves, whether they’ve been mine, or my family’s or my grandparents before me, have one thing in common: they all entail packing. I would like to state for the record that I absolutely hate packing. I especially hated it when we left Oak Park because we had to have every. single. thing. out of the house because we were moving so far away. There was no, well, we’ll move a few things this weekend, or after we move the furniture, we’ll go back to the house and clean it.

Nope. Everything. Every thing had to be wrapped, boxed, stacked and moved.

I don’t know how my mother didn’t go insane for all of those years when she had to pack not just a house, but three kids worth of stuff, too. I suspect that she didn’t get much help from my dad because he was usually traveling for business. He also was probably already in his new position in the new city to which we’d be moving. When we packed up the Oak Park house, we thought we were on schedule and everything would be fine. It wasn’t. We didn’t end up sleeping the night before we left to drive for 10 hours. It was a nightmare.

And now we’re getting ready to do it again. Hopefully in about a month, we’ll be moving to our forever home. That means packing. Again. Granted we didn’t unpack everything from when we packed and moved 18 months ago because we knew this place was temporary. Still, it’s amazing how much needs to be packed again. Everything in the kitchen, the laundry room, the bedrooms and the baths. The offices. The living room.


It occurred to me the other night, or morning, rather. It was about 2:35 am. I was staring into the darkness of the bedroom, listening to the occasional woot from my dreaming dog, and the quiet of the wind outside. And I thought: we’re moving in a month. And I’ve done nothing to prepare. I haven’t packed a box. I haven’t even pulled boxes out to get ready to pack. The closest I’ve come is thinking that I need to start packing soon.

Soon has arrived. The big hand is on the S and the little hand is on the oon, and boxes will be deployed this weekend. For another move, another trip, only this time it will only be across town. And this time, dog willing, will be the last time.

I’m ready. I’m channeling my grandmother on my mother’s side. I’ve got the pack mentality. Let the wrapping, boxing, taping and stacking begin.

Learning to make lemonade

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 6, 2015 9:21 PM

We have a tremendous amount of citrus trees here in the desert. We first became aware of this fact several years ago when we were out looking at houses with Agent Stephanie. We were in the backyard of a particularly lovely home that also had particularly nice landscaping. She pointed to several trees and said they were citrus. They are? we asked in unison. She told us the way to tell what kind of citrus is to break a leaf and smell it. The house we’re renting has a lemon and a lime tree. We know because of the leaves. The neighborhood is filled with lemon trees. They grow so prolifically that they weigh down the branches. One of our neighbors, Laura, stopped us the other day and asked us if we wanted some lemons. She pleaded with us to take them. She had more than she could possible use. She’d already picked over 190 from one tree. We declined. We simply don’t have any need for lemons.

At least we didn’t.

Today I’m wondering if it might not be time to take Laura up on her offer and start making some lemonade. It would be exceedingly sour, though, until I could find a way to sweeten it. This is because I am currently having trouble with the man who is the head of our homeowners association. Trouble is actually a soft word.

A little background on my metaphor: before we bought the property but after Kevin had done his reconnaissance mission, we did what we always do. We discussed it to death. We stood in the kitchen in Oak Park and talked and talked and talked. We asked questions. We attempted to figure out if this was really something we wanted. Kevin scoured the internet looking for someone who might have some information about it. He found a man whose name shall remain unused here. I’ll call him Weeny. Kevin called and he and Weeny talked for quite some time. Turns out Weeny was trying to sell the property and wanted us to use him to buy it. He promised to secure a screaming deal. He could even help with the building. Kevin told him we already had an agent, Agent Stephanie, and Weeny got very irritated. How dare we ask him questions and take up his time when we had no intention of using him.

He and Kevin have had a less than cordial relationship since. I have taken over communication ever since. The reason there continues to be communication is because Weeny is the one who started our little enclave back in the late 1990s. As such he remains king and thus the head of the HOA. I wanted to have him remove a particular piece of equipment that is parked just above our property and thus not on it. He put it there right after we started developing the plans for the site, no doubt because he hoped we’d use it. Which we did. Architect Mike had Weeny do some excavation work for us.

Weeny's equipment is right below the upper left white box

Weeny has maintained that he will be building homes up there and needs his nasty piece of equipment. The thing is, we don’t believe him. He’s a vindictive man, condescending and never wrong. There are plenty of lower pieces of property that would be easier to develop. The ones above us are nearly impossible. We had enough trouble getting trucks to come up. Getting trucks to go even higher is going to be problematic.

I got a note from him today, after I sent a very nice happy new year note and pleading with his sense of aesthetics to move the f#%$ing piece of equipment, that said he couldn’t possibly move it. Because.

So we are left with lemons. Interestingly the equipment is also yellow, kind of a rotting yellow. What’s a positive blogger to do? Well, we’re currently trying to figure out ways to make the equipment disappear. So far we’re drawing blanks but if we come up with something, we expect that everyone in the development will thank us. Weeny is not well liked from what we’ve gathered.

We’re looking ahead to our beautiful house. We won’t see the equipment from inside, not from the gorgeous wrap around deck, or really any of the rooms save the master bath. But really, how much time does one spend in the master bath anyway? We’ll be in and our place will be fabulous. We’ll try to forget about the equipment and hope for a really big storm to wash it down into the canyon below. If that happens, we’ll plant lemon trees in its honor. Therein lies the sugar. And we’ll make lemonade for the rest of our lives.  


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live out loud

Paw prints and then

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 13, 2014 9:50 PM

It was raining here this morning when I took Cooper for a walk. We knew it was coming in. My weather app said as much. Plus the west coast got hammered a day and a half or so ago and the storm was moving east. It was a nice rain, just enough to make both he and I wet but not drenched. It’s the kind of rain I used to love to run in back when I was a runner. I miss running in the rain. Fodder for another post.

By the time el puptart and I returned, we were both fairly drenched. He shook and Kevin wrapped him in a towel, rubbing his fur to dry him off. I shook my head to fling out some water and headed for the bathroom and the hairdryer. Cooper, sensing where II was going, pranced ahead leaving wet paw prints on the floor. I smiled.

I’m a sucker for paw prints. I suppose most pet lovers are. The perfection of the tiny or sometimes not so tiny pads that hold water and leave a trail even inside, even for a short time until they evaporate.

Yesterday, we noticed tiny paw prints on the face of the fireplace in the great room of the new house. Vertical paw prints. I’m not entirely sure how that was possible but there they were, in a cluster. Some were perfectly formed, others had slid together as if whatever was trying to scale the wall in order to get inside the hole just above the fireplace was using all of its little might to heave and pull itself to safety. Mike remarked that he hoped some little creature wasn’t somewhere in the walls. If it gets sealed in inadvertently ir’s screwed.

We’ve seen all sizes of paw prints at the house, some obviously a dog, some more suspect. Coyote maybe. Or bobcat. Mike says there are bears out there. I haven’t yet seen anything remotely the size of a bear’s print, but yikes.

Paw prints appear on cars all the time. I love when you see the prints across the hood of a car and on the windshield, the telltale slide. I can imagine cats or raccoons getting on top of a car just to slide down. Like an amusement park for the wilderness.

It always makes me smile when I see the paw print stickers people put on their car windows. It’s as if they’re signifying solidarity; showing their love of the furred ones to the world. I always want to honk and say “heck yeah.” I don’t because they wouldn’t know what I was honking about and they’d think I was a nut, which of course I am, for animals.

When we lost Maguire, my sister and niece gave me a sterling silver necklace featuring a small silver triangle. Inside the triangle is a paw print. On the back is Maguire’s name. I wear it all the time in memory of our beloved boy, the one Kevin nicknamed puppy feet when he was little; he of the large paws.

There is a popular meme known as footprints in the sand, about god and walking beside and then carrying. I prefer the idea of paw prints in the sand and everywhere. That’s about dog to me.

Paw prints bring me comfort, they make me feel safe, they fill me with love, even when they’re on the floor in the house, even when they’re muddy. They fade or are washed away, but they are the stamp of my dogs, past and present. They are their way of saying “I was here; I still am.” And that’s always worth celebrating.

The clouds look like it’s gonna snow

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 16, 2014 7:01 PM

It was 41º here this morning. Cold and cloudy. The sky was filled with thick clouds that were white on top, heavy on the bottom. They wouldn’t do anything other than keep the temperature down. It’s not ready to rain and it’s definitely not going to snow. This last didn’t stop my husband from proclaiming just that as we left the house to walk the dog.

And he was right. In other parts of the country, this kind of cloud formation often leads to snow. He’s from Chicago where 41º at this time of year can be downright balmy. When the clouds form and the temperature drops, the air cuts through you like a knife, slicing into your bones. I’ve been to Chicago in the winter, been to Soldier Field for a football game in white out blizzard conditions where the kick-off temp was minus 21º and the field was covered in snow. True football weather. Bear weather as the fans call it. Not that it often matters as the Bears, unfortunately, often lose regardless of the weather conditions. The myth of cold, snowy, truly horrific conditions benefiting their play is just that.

I’m reminded of the Christmas song that begins “Oh, the weather outside is frightful.” For Christmas song aficionados out there, you’ll recognize that as the opening riff for Let it snow.

Snow behind the house, in the foothills, last winter

It is snowing in Chicago today and the Bears are losing as I write this. The Patriots are in Indianapolis tonight, and it is supposed to snow there, too. Let it snow. Oak Park is blustery but still on its way to 70º. In the Old Pueblo, where it has been known to snow, it is on its way to maybe 63º.

The air is flowing through the open window. The sun is beating back the clouds but it’s still cool. Most of the clouds have settled over the foothills where they’re casting ominous shadows, flattening the rocks. I’m always fascinated by the way light plays with a landscape. I supposed it’s also what fascinated landscape painters. The way the light changes depth and perception. The way sunlight can be both warm and cold. The way clouds can both dampen and enhance a scene. The way the eyes adjust. The way the sky can recede and come forward at the same time.

It’s not going to snow here today. Occasionally a cloud will break away from the hills and blot out the sun. The temperature will seem to drop but it won’t really. Not until the gray of the late afternoon comes back, not until night falls.

“The clouds look like it’s gonna snow.” That’s what Kevin said to me this morning as he came in with a cup of coffee, as the dog snored in his bed, as the cool air flooded the bedroom

“I don’t think so,” I said, accepting my coffee with a thank you.

But we can always dream. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

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.

A lost sole in the desert

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 14, 2014 8:54 PM

Several years ago, I had an idea. It occurred to me in the night, as some of my most interesting ideas often do. I hastily scribbled it down on the paper next to my side of the bed and the next morning I approached Kevin. We had been toying with finding something to do together. I don’t remember why. We often do projects together, especially when related to the house. Actually, he does the project. I help. I’m not even remotely good at building anything but I’ve become remarkably adept at holding large pieces of wood steady as they travel through the table saw. I can also lay tile. We were looking for something more creative, something that would make use of both of our talents.

Kevin has long been involved in photography. Sometimes long stretches of time will flow between photos, but he loves it. It’s something that started when he was young. His father was involved in the Kankakee camera club; Kevin was, too.

He had a SLR camera, I think it was a Minolta. It shot film. This was before digital cameras were as accessible and affordable as they are now. Certainly it was before smart phones and the cameras they all possess, making the smaller digital cameras nearly obsolete.

Every weekend, we’d climb onto the motorcycle, the camera bag and its additional lenses packed into the saddle bag, and off we’d go. To Ojai, to Camarillo; east to Lake Hughes; up into the Angeles Crest forest. We mostly avoided freeways and stuck to canyons and other side roads. We preferred places that were somewhat away from society. We searched for shoes.

I had long been fascinated with the abandoned shoes that litter the roads. I always wondered, and still do, how one shoe ended up in a ditch, or just tossed along the roadside. Sneakers, dress shoes, boots, children’s sandals. It didn’t seem to matter type, style or size, adult or child. Shoes were and are everywhere. We called our project Lost Soles: Stories from the road. Kevin took photographs, often lying on the side of the road while I stood by and tried to look nonchalant so as not to alarm passers-by. Most of the time it worked. Often people who slow down and call out to make sure we were OK.

After the film was developed, we would decide on a photo and I would craft a back story for the shoe, turning it into a character. It wasn’t about where we found the shoe, but perhaps why the shoe was there.

We pitched the idea as a book and had some interest. I need to get back to it and re-pitch it as I still believe it has merit. The shoes become metaphors for others who are struggling. Lost soles are lost souls and vice versa.

Yesterday, Kevin was out at the new house. He parked his motorcycle half way up the drive because there were too many workers at the top and he’d have no place to turn around. He hiked the rest of the way up, and when he returned back something made him decide to investigate the area where two trucks have flipped over into the desert. The first was a small pickup hauling a load of dirt. The driver lost control, it slid through the curb, breaking it, and flipped, dumping its load of dirt. Naturally, we got a call.

The truck was righted by a small piece of equipment, and continued its work. The spilled load of dirt was lost.

Just a couple of weeks ago, another truck went over the side. It was carrying spools of electrical wire. The driver had stopped because a turtle was crossing in front of him. He got out to move the turtle, but he neglected to set the parking brake. The truck rolled back and flipped. He too was pulled to safety and the spools reloaded so that work could continue.

Kevin went to the scene of the crimes and found this:

Someone lost a shoe. It’s now a lost sole, alone in the desert. I don't yet know its story, but I know this much: it's living it out loud, serene and resolved in the surrounding beauty.

And Hawaii

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 29, 2014 8:57 PM

This morning, the husband unit and I were lounging in bed, having a cup of coffee, discussing the seven continents because what else would a happily married couple be doing at 7 am on a Wednesday morning?

The conversation had started rather innocently when I mentioned that this weekend was the time change. Many parts of the country fall behind. Arizona doesn’t participate because why would they. So I mentioned that we needed to remember that when California clients said they’d like to have a 2 pm meeting, that actually means 3 pm our time for the next several months unless we’re in California and then we don’t have to think about it. Kevin took a sip of his coffee and said his head hurt already. Then he said that maybe we needed to get some of those clocks, and I smiled and I said so we’d know what time it was in Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo, maybe Singapore.

That led to a segue of me asking what the biggest city in China is, and we both decided that it must be Beijing. This prompted me to say that I was pretty sure I could name most of the major cities in most countries but that Africa always eluded me. I knew Johannesburg in South Africa. I knew much of Africa was horribly poor, and that there is always strife there; always has been.

He said South Hampton. I don’t know if there’s a South Hampton in Africa. I know there’s one on Long Island and England. I asked if there were any other big cities in Africa which naturally led to a discussion about Egypt and Cairo because what else do you discuss at 7:05 in the morning. He said he didn’t think Egypt was in Africa and I asked well, then, where would it be? Luckily, I had my handy dandy communication device right next to the bed because dog forbid I not have my cell phone within reach at all times. I pulled up the internets and Wikipedia, wondering how I ever got by without Wikipedia, and looked up Egypt. There it was, a nice big splotch on the northern tip of Africa. Hmmm, said the husband unit, sipping his coffee.

What are the seven continents, I asked and together we quickly rattled off north and south America, Africa, Asia. Kevin offered Antarctica. Then we sat, perplexed. Australia? Yes. And Hawaii. I started to laugh. I’ve always loved Hawaii. It’s truly a tropical paradise. It has an otherworldiness about it, especially on the smaller islands, that makes you feel as if you’ve left the chaos behind. Time slows down a bit. You go from living life at mach II with your hair on fire to existing in slow motion. It can take a few days to acclimate, but once you do, it’s difficult to go back to the mainland. I think it might very well be the living and actual embodiment of Shangri-La, a fictional place from the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton that was described as a mystical and harmonious valley, according to Wikipedia. It has since become somewhat synonymous with any earthly paradise.

Eventually, the husband unit and I came up with the correct seven continents. We got out of bed and took Cooper for a walk. The morning here was cool, low 50s. The light was almost blue, even as we approached 8 am. Fall weather. Cooper trotted along, his ears bouncing as they always do. We were quiet, lost in thoughts of Shangri-La. And the lost continent of Hawaii.

Simple, complete joy

by Lorin Michel Friday, September 5, 2014 8:37 PM

I watched the clouds roll in late yesterday afternoon. I sit with my back to the window that looks out onto the street, to the south. If I didn’t, I might never get anything done for watching the world go by. The sun beats down all day, just beyond the glass, keeping the room bright if not sometimes warm. A ceiling fan spins lazily above my head. When the brightness dimmed, I spun around to see. Sometimes, briefly, it can mean that a plane has flown overhead; or, if the angle is right, a large bird. This was lasting. Clouds were accumulating from the south, coming up from the Gulf. Earlier I had noticed clouds gathering to the north and east over the foothills, heavy and white on top, black and ominous on the bottom. Rain.

I love rain, especially in the summer. I love the smell of it when it hits the hot pavement that’s been baking in the sun, the smell of dust. We’ve had a lot of rain this summer, or at least I think we have. It’s our first summer here so it’s perhaps unfair to judge. We don’t watch the nightly news so I don’t actually know if this is more than usual. Perhaps it’s less. Perhaps it’s normal. When the clouds gather and the wind flicks, as the sky turns nearly green, I watch it with great anticipation. Waiting.

Yesterday I watched it, hoping if and when it came, it would be quick. I had plans for the evening and they didn’t involve rain.

Kevin was flying back from Los Angeles, set to arrive at 10:10. I wanted to take Cooper to surprise him. In order to do that, I have to manage to load him into the car, a chore difficult enough when the weather is warm and dry. Cooper has not yet mastered the art of jumping up into the Range Rover and at this point, probably never will. He’ll be 8 next month, and he has some issues with his hips. Bad wheels, Kevin calls it. He’s never been much of a jumper, at least not in the two years he’s been with us. As he gets older, that won’t change.

He’s actually very good in the car, better than Maguire was. Maguire could get into the Rover with no trouble, launching himself from the ground like he was on springs, landing in the middle of the back seat, ready to go. Go anywhere. Go now. But he was horrible in the car, pacing back and forth, always needing to hang out the window, panting, never settling down. Cooper lays down on the back seat. He likes to put his head on the center console so we have a rack that is the exact height of the back seat. That way he can stretch across the floor with ease.

To get him in requires a brute lift from the ground. In the rain, it would not be fun; nor would a wet dog be pleasant. I watched the rain begin. The thunder crashed above; lightning flashed. It poured for an hour and a half. I was still hopeful that it would dissipate in time.

At 9:45, I pulled the car out of the garage. I put Cooper’s rug across the leather and put the shelf in place. It was still sprinkling. I went back inside, got Cooper, lifted him, twisted my hip painfully, but managed to get him into the car where he settled down immediately.

I got to the airport and parked in the cell phone lot. A coyote was trotting around the edges. The lot is located in an area just north of the runways, blocked by the terminal. You can’t hear the planes land; hence the cell phone. I hadn’t been there for more than two minutes when a text came in. Landed.

I waited a few more minutes then made my way to the terminal. Kevin was standing outside of baggage claim, leaning against one of the pillars. He looked tired. No – he looked worn out. He saw me coming and moved to the front of the sidewalk. Cooper was still lying in the back seat. I stopped the car, and hit the unlock button for the doors. Kevin moved to open the back door to put in his bag. Cooper got up and started wagging his tail. Kevin opened the door and his face just exploded in a smile.

“Cooper! Buddy, I didn’t know you were coming!”

He hugged on his dog, laughing – how you doin’, baby – and joyous while Cooper’s tail wagged harder – dad! –  and harder, hitting against the back seat. My two boys.

I was struck by the sheer joy of it all. After an impossibly long day that began at 4:25 am, traveling, fighting LA traffic, sitting in back to back meetings, all the while lugging along a backpack that grew heavier with every hour, the total purity of unexpectedly seeing your dog, who is happiest when he sees you, is what living it out loud is truly all about.

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live out loud

The bewildering case of the 52” table saw and why we absolutely, positively cannot live without one

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 30, 2014 10:42 PM

The road to Catalina starts out as six lanes, narrows to four and then becomes a two lane highway. It winds north of the city, into an area that has become the definition of a bedroom community. There are beautiful homes that all look mostly alike, with slight variances in color from desert tan to light terra cotta. They are neatly arranged on equally neat and small pieces of land, landscaped with sparse saguaros, plentiful ocotillos and chollas, mesquite trees and birds of paradise. During the summer, there is rarely any life outside, save the hawks circling above, as everyone stays inside where temperature controlled central air conditioning leads to a false sense of comfort. Kids play basketball and tennis on their Wii for exercise. Even the dogs are inside. It was into this community that we drove this morning in search of a table saw that the husband unit found on Craig’s List and decided that we needed.

We have a table saw, I pointed out. It’s a piece of crap, he said.

But you’ve used it to build some lovely pieces of furniture, I said. I referenced the entertainment center, the credenza in the bedroom, the bed frame in the guest room that was once a queen size loft bed for Justin, complete with a curved staircase rather than a ladder. It’s been perfectly fine up until now.

It’s a piece of crap, he reiterated.

I had gone along begrudgingly. It’s Saturday and I’m not big on just hanging back in the house alone because that might mean I’d have to do something like clean and while I desperately need to dust, I wasn’t in the mood. I also wasn’t particularly in the mood to buy a table saw when we already have one. But it’s a long weekend. There are plenty of days left.

We made our way north to Oracle and continued on into Catalina. Civilization got more and more sparse. There were few homes and no shopping to speak of. There was a place called the Catalina Marina, which made us both laugh. It’s in the middle of the desert. There wasn’t so much as a puddle visible, but it was a boat place. There was a Mexican restaurant called Lulus, and a barbecue place called Bubb Grub.

We should ride out here some day, when your back is feeling better, I mentioned, meaning on the motorcycle. He nodded.

It’s supposed to be 16 miles and then we’re supposed to continue on Saddlebrooke, he said as we meandered through the nothingness. Because of all the rain we’ve had, the desert is remarkably green. If lush could be used to describe what can be a desolate landscape, I would say lush. To the east, the Santa Catalina Mountains reached high into the blue of the sky, the jutted, craggy rocks stark. Below them, on the hills, more greenery. It was striking. Beautiful.

As the road split, there was a sign for Oracle. We had passed a turn for something called Saddlebrook Boulevard about four miles earlier but the directions said to continue on. We decided the directions were wrong and turned around, made our way to Saddlebrook and turned. As we climbed a hill and began to descend into a valley, a sea of houses met us. Entrance ways into communities beckoned, stucco walls with metal sculptures and the names of each development. We turned on Desert Bluff and found ourselves in the middle of a neighborhood. We quickly found the house. The owner of the saw was in his garage. Even I knew immediately that whatever saw he had, the 52” that we had come to look at, was going to be in remarkable shape, pristine.

The man, Jim, had just about every kind of tool imaginable, all well cared for, clean, in neat order. He was a wood worker who, in the past, had built furniture, but he had recently turned his efforts to making classical guitars and wooden clocks. A table saw was no longer needed.

OK. You need a new table saw, I whispered and my husband started to laugh.

And that’s how we came to own a new used table saw that I was pretty sure we didn’t need but now understand why we absolutely, positively cannot live with out.

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live out loud

The art and practice of active denial and why you should consider both especially if things keep you up at night

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 27, 2014 10:07 PM

When I sold my townhouse in 1997, I wanted to sell it without a realtor. I had already lost a lot of money and didn’t want to lose anymore. I had bought it when the market was better and then it tanked. Plus townhouses don’t appreciate nearly as well as single family homes.

I had a friend at the time who was in real estate and she promised to help me free of charge. If she had listed it, she would have had to charge commission because she worked for ReMax. Kevin and I had bought a house in Oak Park. We weren’t married yet but we needed more space. When I bought the townhouse in 1992, I was single. By 1997 I had acquired a man, a child and a puppy. In that order. The townhouse, which had two bedrooms and two and a half baths in two stories was lovely. There were a lot of kids for Justin to play with; it was in a decent area. We even had a two-car garage. I loved it. But the three of us were quickly outgrowing it. The new house afforded us another bedroom, plus a contained yard, perfect for a six year old boy and an 8 month old male pup.

After months of not getting very many people looking, a neighbor, a single guy who was renting a townhouse two-doors down decided to take the plunge and buy mine. I was thrilled. I was also nervous. We went into escrow. The close of the new house was contingent on the close of the townhouse. I was stressed and it manifested as insomnia.

I couldn’t turn my brain off at night. After Justin and Kevin and even Maguire would go to bed, I would stay downstairs. The TV would be on, turned way down, as somebody droned on about something that I wasn’t paying attention to. I’d spend hours writing instead. When I’d finally go to be bed, I’d lay there for hours more. Finally, somewhere around 5 am, I’d drift off only to have to get up two and a half hours later to get ready for work. I wasn’t full time anywhere – I had already gone freelance – but one of my clients had an office for me and I gave them three days a week. It was a great way to start my business, with a steady stream of money, while also building additional clients.

I went to the doctor who prescribed 10 Ambien, to be used sparingly. He said that everything would probably return to normal as soon as we moved. He was right.

For the last year, I’ve been in a similar situation, with selling the Oak Park house and moving. We’re in a rental while our house is being built. Selling meant showing and holding out for the right amount of money, which we did and which we got. Then we had to pack and purge. We had asked for a two-month escrow; we got five weeks. The day we finally moved was an experience I don’t ever want to repeat. It was brutal, and long – we didn’t go to bed for nearly 48 hours – and exhausting.

Now that the house is being built, we are constantly bombarded with decisions. It started with the design. Do you like it? How many bathrooms, how many bedrooms, what about the square footage? It has progressed to what kind of windows? How thick do you want the interior doors? What are you doing for a front door? How about a wine room door? Can you pick a bathtub for the master bathroom? Do you like this style of fireplace? How big do you want your built-in grill? Will the gas cooktop have a hood over the island? Are you doing granite countertops throughout? Where do you want the area for the dog?

It goes on and on and on. I simply don’t think about it. I take each question as it comes, answer them as I can, and move on.

In the midst of all of this, I am also slammed with work. I’m not complaining about either but I start each day with my hair on fire. By the end of the day, I have nothing but a smoking scalp left. It’s not pretty, but it is lucrative. This is good because the answers to every one of those questions I rattled off costs money.

I’ve been asked how I do it, how I don’t break down or explode; how I sleep at night. The answer is simple. I practice the fine art of active denial. I simply don’t think about it. It’s the 21st century version of pulling a Scarlet O’Hara. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

It works. I’ve had no insomnia issues. I go about my days and nights and deal with what’s in front of me at the time. It’s also living completely in the present, and that’s living it out loud. I highly recommend it.

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