Tulips in January

by Lorin Michel Monday, January 28, 2013 8:05 PM

About a week and a half ago, our friend and hairdresser extraordinaire, Tammy, came to the house for dinner and cocktails. We hadn’t seen her socially for a while and we’ve known her forever. We’re all Survivors of Sebastian as we long ago dubbed ourselves and anyone else who worked for Sebastian International in the 1980s and 90s and lived to understand its meaning. It was a brutally creative place to be but it gave me so much. It taught me how to work and create quickly and sometimes brilliantly, showed me that boring is for others, and introduced me to some of the best people I know. Most if not all of my friends here in California are people I met while interned in the grand Pyramid in Woodland Hills (Sebastian’s headquarters). We share a past and an understanding of what it meant to work under those conditions and to produce some of the most amazing products and corresponding creative the professional hair care industry had ever known.

I was their senior writer. Roy was the art director. Bobbi was a senior designer. Diane was a freelance designer. Kevin (we were not involved at the time; only knew each other peripherally) was the Vice President of Southern California Sales. Tammy was the head of the color team for education. She’s a master colorist. She left Sebastian years ago, as we all did, and opened her own salon. She’s been cutting and coloring my hair since we were both at Sebastian. She’s been cutting and coloring Kevin’s hair since he and I got together, post Sebastian. Bobbi sees her regularly as well. Roy prefers to get his hair chopped at one of the local in and out shops.

The night Tammy joined us, she brought with her a number of things to eat, all from Trader Joe’s so all wondrous. There was a frozen spinach dip that we microwaved. It was excellent. But I think my favorite was a blueberry wrapped loaf of goat cheese. I could have eaten the whole thing.

She also brought a small potted plant containing three tulip stalks. I promptly put it in the greenhouse window.

Tract houses in California often have greenhouse windows off of the kitchen, above the sink. That’s where ours is. It’s basically just an extension of the countertop, with a shelf, but it is surrounded by glass on all sides as well as on top. The top cranks open to allow in air as needed or to release any heat. Most of our neighbors seem to use their greenhouse windows for pots and pans. They have stacks on both levels. I’ve always wondered why. It’s rather unsightly, and there is ample cupboard space in the kitchen. There is plenty of room for pots and pans beneath the stove. We have the smallest style house in our tract, I have a ton of kitchen stuff, and I have no need to put my cooking utensils in the sun with hopes that they’ll grow.

Our greenhouse window has only plants, including the official Saguaro cactus that Kevin gave me for mother’s day the year we bought our property in Tucson. It hasn’t grown much and I don’t expect it to for another 75 years or so. We also have several other plants that thrive in some direct sun but always direct light, at least until the night arrives. The tulips have been sitting on the bottom level, next to the cactus, since their arrival. I’ve given them some water, just enough to keep the soil moist, as the directions said.

This morning, it was 39º. The air was still, our breath crystallized before dissipating as we walked Cooper. When we returned to the house and a cup of hot coffee, we also discovered flowers. My tulips were blooming in shades of deep pink and white.

Because of the remarkable cold we’ve had this winter, with frost and chilling temperatures, a number of outdoor plants have died. Our neighbor’s date tree has become petrified and black, suffering from frostbite, frozen to death just over the wall. We lost several of our bougainvilleas; there are no flowers currently blooming anywhere in the Southland.

But today, in my kitchen, beneath my greenhouse window, next to the Saguaro, I had tulips. It was a good day.

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live out loud

The simple joy of a squeaky clean car

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 20, 2013 9:34 PM

I am a car snob. I am also a hotel snob, but for purposes of this post, let’s stick to the four wheels rather than the four-stars. My cars don’t have to be new, and in most cases, I don’t want them to be. I have had mostly used, or pre-owned, cars in my driving history and I’m just fine with that. They’re a better value and if you have the time to search, you can find just what you want.

I’ve had Porsches and Toyotas, Mazdas, BMWs and Land Rovers. Out of all of those, three were new: a Mazda MX-6, a BMW 330i and a Land Rover Discovery Series II. I’ve had two used Porsches (both 944s, one Before Kevin, one with), two used Toyotas (one BK, one with), one used Mazda (my beloved RX-7), two used BMWs (both with Kevin) and two used Land Rovers (our first Range Rover and our current one).

A good used car can be cosmetically and mechanically excellent. The key, then, is keeping it that way. Obviously we make sure the oil is changed. If there is ever any kind of issue, we immediately have it checked out. Both of our cars are garaged (as is the motorcycle), and we keep both as clean inside and out as possible. We take great care in vacuuming as well as washing. We always do it ourselves for two reasons: 1) we do a better job; and 2) we do a better job.

Some of the car washes around here are fine, but we’ve found that mass car washing places tend to lead to things not getting as clean as we’d like, like the wheels. Yes, if you look up anal-retentive-when-it-comes-to-their-cars in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Kevin and I. It’s actually a really nice pic . Too much brake-dust doesn’t get washed away. And too much water remains either on the car or in the various crevices of the metal or fiberglass which leads to water spots. Maybe this is a California problem, because of the near-constant warmth of the sun, but water spots on an otherwise clean car makes the car look less clean.

The Porsche is having some health issues so it doesn’t get driven very much. Around the block every week or so just to keep it running. Thus, it remains clean. Occasionally we dust it. The Range Rover, the workhorse, gets all the heavy lifting. It hadn’t been washed since sometime before Christmas. Since then it made several trips back and forth to the airport, went to several holiday parties and a wine tasting trip north of Santa Barbara, not to mention meetings and just general living trips like to the grocery store. It was rained on, sat out in near freezing temperatures, and had countless bugs commit suicide on its windshield.

It was dirty.

Actually, it was filthy. The beautiful powder-coated chrome wheels were black with dust that had also been kicked up onto the paint. The finish was both dusty and water-stained. The cover over the headlights was also dusty, watermarked and sporting the remains of bugs. We don’t normally let the car get that bad. Last summer when we drove to Tucson and got caught in a thunderstorm, we washed the car while on vacation. But it has been so cold, and the idea of being wet outside, with cold spraying water just wasn’t appealing. Then came yesterday.

The day was in the high 70s; a gentle breeze was blowing. We backed the car out into the driveway, brought Cooper out and hooked him to the tree so he could be with us, then set about our task. We vacuumed, we windexed, we dusted. Then we moved to the outside. First the wheels, then the rest of the car. Soap and spray, soap and spray, climb up on a ladder to do the top. Once it was clean and rinsed, Kevin pulled out the leaf blower, plugged it in and essentially gave the car a nice blow dry, put a little finish of Armor-all on the trim and it was pretty as new.

It took two hours. I can wash, blow dry and finish in 30 minutes. I guess the Rover has more hair.

We put its shiny self in the garage and closed the door. Ever since and every once in a while, we open the door that leads out to the garage, turn on the light and admire our work as the paint glistens under the electric sun. There’s something to be said for physical exertion that leads to the completion of a task. It can be easier than mental exertion. Perfect for a sunny weekend day.

It’s simple things like washing the car that can bring abundant amounts of joy. My husband calls them ergs of pleasure. I call it living out loud.

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live out loud

Dreams of my ...

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 20, 2012 10:42 PM

On this late, groggy Saturday night, I’m reclined on the love seat in the great room, my slippered feet stretched out over the edge, my body wrapped up in sweatpants and an oversized flannel shirt. My laptop is on my lap, living up to its category, and I am listening to the sounds of sweet jazz and the remnants of rain, leaves heavy with moisture dripping down onto one another and finally to the ground. The skies are cloudy. From my perch I can’t see them but I can feel them, the heaviness of the sky invades the backyard and oozes in through the sliver of the sliding glass door that’s open and inviting the fresh damp air.

It’s been a long day. The grapes were pressed this morning and we now have nine gallons of syrah grape juice. The fermenter and various pieces of equipment are clean and stored; the juice sits in glass carboys on the workbench in the garage. It will sit there for several days before entering the next phase of its young life.

Once we returned from our pressing journey, we showered, changed and went out again for a phone bank for Organizing for America, calling people to urge them to continue their support of President Obama. My friend Connie went with us. For three hours we dialed phone numbers on provided sheets in the hopes of someone picking up on the other end to speak to us nicely, without malice of interruption, without having decided to vote to the right. It was an interesting atmosphere. The building we were in was a call center by trade. Each day, dozens of people sit at the same desks we occupied and call people to try to sell them, convince them, connive them into buying something they’re not sure they want or to support something they’re not sure of. The irony was not lost.

I found myself drifting into daydreams several times as I waited for someone to answer a number I had dialed. In my dreams, I saw the rolling desert of Tucson, covered with Saguaros as they reached for the sky, and Kevin and I in our new home, waiting for the wonder of an encroaching thunderstorm, enjoying the anonymity of our home on the hill. I saw my niece at her Halloween party last night, dressed as a flapper and enjoying herself with her girlfriends. I wondered what she looked like and sent a text to my sister between phone calls. She promised to send photos.

I let my mind wander to my family, so many of whom are no longer with me, with us, and I wondered how they would see the world these days. The anger, the resentment, the entitlement, the hope. My grandmother, my dad’s mom, who died in 2001 at 93. I wondered if she was a democrat and decided she probably was; she had been a teacher. My great aunt, my dad’s mom’s sister, who died just a couple of years ago, also in her 90s. I wondered how she saw the world when she was still in it. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, who died several years ago as well, at 91. I wondered if she had ever really enjoyed her life. I wondered if any of them had.

My thoughts drifted then to my dad, who died in 2002, and who would have absorbed the news of the day with hardly a mention of how it made him feel. I admired that in him, and yet, I think keeping all of that in – his joy, his anger, his hurt, his dreams – contributed to him dying at such a young age.

How had any of them dreamed of … ? Had they dreamed at all?

Today I dreamed of grapes and wine, of rain and wondrous gloom, of phone calls to strangers who became instant friends, albeit virtually, and co-conspirators in this 17 days until the election. I dreamed of spending time with friends, of sharing wine and cheese and politics and more wine and funny stories. I dreamed of my future and my past, of my father, my grandmothers, others lost, those still living and full of love. My mother, my sister, my niece and nephew, my brother; my son. I dreamed. They dream.

“With our eyes closed, we uttered the same words, but in our hearts we each prayed to our own masters; we each remained locked in our own memories; we all clung to our own foolish magic.”

The quote is from page 163 of the book Dreams from my father by Barack Obama. I don’t know if it’s foolish to dream or foolish not to. But I do believe in magic, and I will cling to it as long as I have dreams.

On this Saturday night when the weather is drifting and the air is chilled and fine, I am dreaming of so much.

I am dreaming of … 

A king fit for a queen

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 1, 2012 9:34 PM

So I’m exhausted. I traveled back and forth to the east coast over the course of the last four days and spent three nights not in my bed, which means not sleeping very well. Being in one’s own bed is like being in one’s favorite jeans, as far as this blogger is concerned. The fit is perfect, there is a major comfort factor and I feel better for having slept there, dressed like that.

The reason I didn’t sleep well is hereditary. Yes, that means I blame my mother. Typical adult. I have a problem, it must be the fault of my parents. I know it wasn’t my dad’s fault because he could sleep basically anywhere. In a chair, on the couch, leaning against the wall, standing up (I’m guessing on that last one). But my mother has never been the world’s best sleeper. I’m not sure if this is a problem that started back when she was a child, in college or after she and my dad got married. My dad was a snorer, my mom a worrier. Between the two, it’s nearly impossible for a person to sleep well especially if one is worrying while attempting to sleep next to one who is snoring, loudly – actually attempting the relatively unknown art of peeling the paint off the walls with sound. Maybe she got into the habit of not sleeping then. Whatever, and whenever, she formed the habit and it’s one that persists.

Even when she does sleep, it has to be done in her own bed. She doesn’t do well in hotels, or when she visits someone else. I tend to have a similar issue, though usually only the first night I’m somewhere new and in an unfamiliar bed. I think it’s the feel of the bed – always different – and the sounds – always weird. I get used to the sounds of my house and my ‘hood. When I’m somewhere new, so are the house and ‘hood sounds. I have gotten better though. When we stay at the Westward Look in Tucson, I have no trouble at all; ditto the Fairmont in Chicago. Maybe because I’ve stayed there before.

But I’ve stayed at my mother’s house before. I sleep, just not well. In addition to blaming my mother, I also blame the bed and the sounds. It’s a twin, it has a nice firm mattress, the bedding is always crisp and cool, the blankets plentiful (it’s New England after all). The room itself is dark, which I like. It’s all very comfortable.  But it’s still a twin mattress, which I’m not used to, and all the noises are different and so I slept OK while away but not well enough to ward off the inevitable exhaustion that follows a whirlwind trip back east.

By the time I was 35,000 feet, give or take a foot or two, above Kansas I started to get misty, nostalgic even. By the time I was over Pennsylvania, I was jonesing for my big beautiful California King with its firm mattress and soft pillow-top, all held in place by a big wrought iron sleigh bed. I couldn’t wait to climb between the cool, crisp sheets and listen to the sound of the vacillating fan, the crickets chirping in the back yard, the steady breathing of my husband asleep next to me.

The Bed by Toulouse Lautrec; painted in 1893

A California King, also known as a Western King, is about 4” longer than a Standard King; the Standard is 4” wider. A California King is 12” wider than a Queen. It is the longest bed available, unless you order something custom. It’s 72” wide and 84” long, and was first made in Los Angeles in the 1960s by a furniture company making oversized beds for celebrity mansions; hence the name California King. It is fit for a queen. Or at least for me.

I got home last night after 11 pm West Coast time. I had been up forever, or at least it felt like it, and had traveled some 2500 miles. I dumped my bags on the floor, brushed my teeth, washed my face and then slipped between the sheets. I sighed, content. I’m not sure if my husband heard but I know he understood. My comfort was written all over my body.

And then I suspect I snored enough to make my dad proud. 

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We’re thinking something in bomb-shelter chic

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 19, 2012 10:14 PM

One of our new favorite things is the Houzz app on the iPad. We can spend hours with it, just surfing through its over 634,000 photos of all things house related, from exteriors and landscapes to porches and patios to interior wall and floor treatments, fireplaces, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, media rooms and wine cellars. We have started a folder for our favorites. At this point we have at least one hundred photos cataloged with notes as to why we find them so fascinating. Occasionally we also scroll through our folder to see if there’s a pattern emerging. There is and it’s mostly one of clean lines and modern designs. Except for the wine cellars.

It will probably come as no surprise to you, dear readers, that the majority of our photos are of wine cellars. Many are fairly straight-forward; most are not modern but lean more toward traditional. The racks are often identical save for the color of the wood stain and placement, depending on the size and shape of the cellar. Most have tile floors, some also have tiled walls. We came across one today that had stucco for walls and liked that very much. It would add great texture and might actually serve to make our eventual cellar more cellar-like, more cave-like.

Some cellars are created by using otherwise wasted spaces, like putting something underneath a staircase. Our current cellar, if it can be called that, is under our stairs. Kevin built the small room that’s more like a closet in unused and thus wasted space. He stuffed insulation in between the wall studs, sealed them with moisture-resistant plastic and used thin plywood to create walls. The front of the closet is about five feet high and it slopes down as the stairs above it ascend up to the second floor. The solid door to the room is at least two inches thick. He built wine racks inside, on both sides of the door. In the back there is space for several cases that we leave in the boxes. The room holds about 300 + bottles, all kept at a balmy and constant 58º, the best temperature for storing red wine.

Many of the photos we saw today do something similar. Some are visible to the world, and show off the wine through a glass door. Some become little circular caves with stone encasings. There are cellars that spiral down into a seemingly finished hole beneath the house; some are actually in a cellar, or basement. Others are off of a game room; some are near the kitchen or dining room. When we eventually build our house in Tucson, our wine cellar will be off the dining room, and we’re obsessed with how it will look.

The space is 13’ X 7’ and will hold up to 2,000 bottles. The floor will be the same tile that flows through the house, big and ceramic. The interior will have racks. Whether they’re wood racks or perhaps something a little more modern, like steel rods suspended vertically from the ceiling with wooden pieces placed horizontally to actually hold each bottle. We’d like the walls to be textured. We’ve looked at paint, which is always an option, more tile, the aforementioned stucco, or some combination thereof. But there’s another idea that presented itself this morning as we browsed through Houzz. We’re calling it bomb-shelter chic.

The exterior of the house will be stucco with some additional stonework for texture. Mike, our architect, wants to bring the stone into the house, pulling through the motif in order to keep the house even more fluid. We’ve talked about putting the same stone on the wall of the fireplace in the great room as well as the outdoor fireplace and the outdoor kitchen. Today, we wondered about also bringing the stone in on the wall just inside the entry way, in the dining room, then having the stone taper off so that it looks unfinished in a highly finished and on-purpose way. This wall is where the door to our cellar will be. The doorframe for the arched door will be inset and house, most-likely, a solid door, maybe one with a window to allow the exterior world to look in and the interior world to look out.

We’re thinking this could be very interesting, very chic, especially if the interior looks a bit like a cave. As far as bomb shelters go, this is one we would gladly spend time in until it was safe.

Or until we ran out of wine. To run out of wine would be oh-so shabby (chic). 

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The great first paragraphs from "Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West"

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 12, 2012 8:16 PM

“Snow in the desert

“Long before the boom of the aughts, long before the bust, I made a pilgrimage to the desert. When I arrived, snow suffused the sand, icicles hung from the yucca spikes. It was late 1997, the beginning of an El Niño winter.

“I’d come running from Mexico City and stopped in the Mojave because it was close to Los Angeles, my hometown, and because that’s where people from L.A. – in trouble with the law, their lovers, their creditors, themselves – go to hide out, lick their wounds, end the affair, bury the body.

“I went because my friend Elia was there. She, along with a small crew of L.A. expatriates, optimistic bohos, was creating a life for herself in the village of Joshua Tree, at the edge of the famous national park. Their presence unwittingly helped set the scene for a full-blown art colony and a season of wild speculation in the mid-2000s.

“Me, I was simply trying to save my life.”

These are the great first lines to Rubén Martínez’ new book Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West. As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of the desert in all of its unforgiving beauty. It is capable of both majesty and terror, making it both a hero and a villain. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fascinated by it. I suspect, though, that it’s only one reason. Equally, I suspect that the major reason for my love of this most brutal of climates is that it is truly a haunting and haunted place, one of mystery and the ultimate wild creature, made even more so than by humans’ incessant need to tame it. My husband and I fall victim to that ourselves, with our love of Tucson and our own piece of desert land.

When I heard of Mr. Martínez’ book, just today in the book section of the Los Angeles Times, I knew I had to go to Barnes & Noble and buy it. I did. He writes unflinchingly of what happened to areas of the desert southwest, the land populated by cactus and sand, scorpions and snakes, when the economy boomed in the 1990s and early 2000s, and then chronicles the devastation that was left when the bubbles burst. There is both politics and demographics at play, outrageous wealth and destructive poverty, beauty amid the ruins. 

He candidly discusses his own battles with drug addition – a habit he moved to northern New Mexico in order to beat and ironically ended up right in the middle of an the epidemic of addiction that flourishes in the shadow of some of the country's richest zip codes.

From the publisher: In Joshua Tree, California, gentrification displaces people and history. In Marfa, Texas, an exclusive enclave triggers a race war near the banks of the Rio Grande. And on the Tohono O'odham reservation, Native Americans hunt down Mexican migrants crossing the most desolate stretch of the border.

With each desert story, Martínez explores his own encounter with the West and his love for this most contested region. In the process, he reveals that the great frontier is now a harbinger of the vast disparities that are redefining the very idea of America.

I can’t wait to finish this book.

The dark night rises

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 22, 2012 11:33 PM

The news for the past two days has been filled with Aurora, Colorado and rightly so. Each time I wake up to news like this blaring across my computer screen – BREAKING NEWS – my heart breaks anew. It happened many years ago when Challenger exploded upon ascent – Roger, go at throttle up – though we weren’t working on computers then. Someone came into my office in Phoenix and said the space shuttle had just blown up. I don’t know that any of us knew the shuttle was even scheduled to launch that day. We had become complacent about space travel. That was a man-made tragedy but not a planned one. It somehow makes it easier to bear. And harder.

We see devastation around the world and here within our own shores. Hurricanes, earthquakes, wild fires, tsunamis. These events take lives, too, sometimes hundreds of thousands of lives, but not on purpose, with the possible exception of fires caused by arson. We are capable of such greatness, and yet…

When news broke of the shooting at Columbine – via radio and television – we were numbed. It was 1999 and we could watch it on both the TV and the Internet. Twelve students and one teacher were murdered by two high school boys that day.

September 11, 2001 was a glorious day across the country until mad men hijacked airplanes and killed more than 3000 people. I’ll never forget watching those events unfold – Here’s what we know – and feeling the terror. It was both individual and national.

Thirty-two people were killed and 17 more were wounded in 2007 at Virginia Tech. Thirteen were killed and 29 were wounded on a beautiful fall day in 2009 at Fort Hood, the country’s most populated military base. We watched it all on the Internet, as Breaking News gave way to more Breaking News.

On a Saturday morning in January 2011, a town hall-type event was being held in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Arizona when a man opened fire, wounding 19 people including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Six died. We got a text message from Bobbi that morning – There’s been a shooting in Tucson – and we immediately reached for the remote. There was our beloved Tucson, under the national glare because of an impossible event. We called Justin, who was there at the time, knowing he was nowhere near but because we had to make sure. We woke him up.

We were horrified, afraid, and yet felt as if we were somehow becoming immune to it all, a fact reinforced in July of last year when 77 people were killed in Norway, 69 at a summer camp for teens. We wanted to shout, to scream – WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? – but of course we didn’t. We held it in and whispered those same words, because no one hears; nothing changes.

In 2012, a football coach at one of the most prolific colleges in the country was found guilty of systematically raping children, convicted on 45 of 48 charges. And on Friday morning, all of the news sites, NBCNews.com, CNN.com, WashingtonPost, NYTimes, and others were bursting with the blood-red banner, again. Breaking News. 12 dead, dozens wounded in shooting at midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Breaking News. Broken lives.

I wonder. How do some of us become weapons of mass destruction? I wonder if people who are capable of such disregard for their fellow human beings know this from an early age, or if something in them suddenly snaps and they become monsters. There’s every indication of both. I wonder what makes a person become that way, what is inside them that makes it ok to kill people in a school, on a base, at work, at camp or in a darkened movie theatre at midnight while a fictional battle between the hero and villain rages on screen. 

This is the kind of breaking news that breaks my heart, breaks all of our hearts. Or at least most of our hearts. Those who don’t find this story tragic, well, those are people I don’t want to know. People who I would worry – and do – greatly about.

I may be naïve but I don’t believe we are born to kill one another and yet it’s surprising how many do just that. Last year in this country alone, 31,593 people died from gun violence; more than 12,000 of them were murdered. These statistics according to the Brady Center. James Brady was shot in the head in 1981 when he was press secretary for then president Ronald Reagan. He and his wife have been fierce advocates for gun control ever since.

Is there any good that can come of this? I wonder about that, too. Perhaps, someday.

And on that morning, when from the dark night rises beautiful sunshine, we will welcome a new day. A day to celebrate, a day to embrace each other, a day to welcome one another with open arms and hearts. A day when there is no Breaking News of tragedy, but rather only stories of happiness and joy. Stories of living it out loud.

Sand castles in the sky and other places of interest

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 17, 2012 11:25 PM

I am both a realist and a dreamer. I suspect there are many in the world much like me. I dream of a stunning home on our nearly four acres in the foothills of Tucson, where the views stretch for nearly 300º and the sunsets are purple and orange and pink, where the sky is on fire during the day and streaks of high clouds tease. I dream of standing in my living room, looking out my floor-to-ceiling windows as the monsoons pound out their vengeance on the hardened desert; of sitting in my office with my dog at my feet, snoozing happily as I write my next successful novel.

I dream of spending a month in a Tuscan villa, eating pasta every night and drinking Italy’s best red wines.; of getting fat and not having to worry about cholesterol or high blood pressure.

I dream that my husband and I will live to be old but always healthy, and never have to the face the idea of living a day without the other.


I dream that Justin has a wondrous life and exotic career that takes him everywhere he dreams of; that he’s happy in his choices; that he one day knows the unconditional love of a great dog.

I dream that I will never have to worry about money or work or love or my family.

I dream of living forever.

I’m also a realist though and understand that dreaming about something and actually making something happen are separate entities. I’m fond of saying that life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. I’m equally fond of saying that if you lose sight of your dreams, you die. I think that was in a movie but I can never remember what one. It’s something I believe deeply, and so I nurture my dreams, I work at them and believe that they will eventually become reality. All except, probably, the living forever. From what I’ve seen in movies and read in books that feature immortal characters, it’s probably not something I would like. Still.

Imagine being able to see the world as it has evolved and changed and invented and re-invented itself. Imagine being able to see it in one hundred years, one thousand years. It’s the stuff of great science fiction, something I admire when it’s done with poetry and song but not when it’s done with spaceships. The film Contact may be an exception, but that had Matthew McConaughey. Also, Alien and Aliens, the first for the creep factor, the second for the kick-ass factor.

Still imagine the things to come, the wonder of what will still be invented, the joy of humanity if we ever get the living-together-on-one-planet thing right. The realist in me doesn’t see it happening any time soon; the dreamer dreams.

There is a saying about building castles in the air. It’s used to describe something that is nothing but an illusion. It’s a flight of fancy and a phrase found in both English and French literature. The earliest use was by Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592) who wrote that all “religion is but a castle in the air.” Some say Cervantes was the first to use the phrase as related to Don Quixote, when he spoke of “building castles in the air, and making yourself a laughing-stock.”

Don McLean wrote in his song Castles in the Air: “And if she asks you why you can tell her that I told you; That I'm tired of Castles in the Air; I've got a dream I want the world to share in castle walls; Just leave me to despair.”

Rita Rudner said once that neurotics build castles in the sky and psychotics live in them; that her mother cleans them. She didn’t mention sand castles, which are firmly grounded, at least until the next waves come in to wash it all away.

Is that destined to happen to most dreams? Or, like the sand castles built in competitions, can the dreams survive the force of reality? I like to think they can. I like to think that the castles I’ve built in my dreams will withstand the rip tides of life and perhaps instead be more like skyscrapers. Those are also castles in the air that someone once dreamed of and was able to make real.

I like what Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “if you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Sunset on our property in Tuscan

In other words, celebrate your dreams. I know I do. And I’m building as many foundations as I can to keep my castles in the air high and beautiful and real. Strong and able to withstand the waves. 

Things I see and saw

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 5, 2012 1:10 AM

On the road today, driving east about 500 miles through the desert on the way to Tucson. Fascinating place, the desert. It’s flat and desolate, nothing for miles and miles on either side of the freeway. The navigation on the dashboard has nothing on it but two orange lines for the 10 freeway. There’s a yellow arrow on our side, showing us the direction we’re traveling. In case we didn’t know. It’s literally due east.

Off in the distance, seemingly all around us, are the small rock formation cum mountains that are so famous in the desert southwest. We’re driving under cloud cover, something new for us as the desert always seems to be scorching. There is sun highlighting one of the rock formations to the northeast. All around it, the other rocks are in shadow, flattening them against the depth of what’s been exposed by the sun. Heavy thunderclouds are tucked behind the rocks, like clouds below the clouds, nearly touching the ground. We’re supposed to have thunderstorms tonight and tomorrow. It’s already rained a bit, just enough to put spots on the clean car.

Along our two-lane side of the road there are countless pieces of black rubber, some quite large, nearly a tire. There is little else save for tumbleweed that has not yet broken free to tumble, desert brush and the occasional cactus. We haven’t yet gotten deep enough into the desert that we’re surrounded by the towering saguaros that can grow to nearly 100’. Soon.

There are tons of 18-wheel trucks, surprising for a holiday. Though as Kevin said, if they’re long-haulers, it’s just another day in the week for them. We cruise alongside them, passing nearly every one. Occasionally one pulls into our lane to pass another and we have to get off the cruise control. But only for a minute.

It’s 82º, cool for the desert in July.

Off to the right is what appears to be the remains of a building, made of stones. It has no windows, no doors and no inhabitants save for the creatures of the desert. Maybe not even that. It’s desolate. I wonder if anyone ever lived there and why.

The satellite radio is set to channel 32, The Bridge. It’s billed as classic rock meets mellow, and it plays music only from the 60s and 70s, maybe early 80s. Groups like Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Blood, Sweat & Tears, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Carly Simon. You get the idea. We’re in heaven. We love this kind of music. I was never big on hard rock, nor did I like the bubble gum pop that was popular in the 70s, before, during and after the dreaded disco era. Chicago is on now. Feeling stronger every day.

On the ground, a shattered box spring and destroyed mattress, collateral damage from an ill-fated moving trip. Above it, a billboard for mattresses.

78º. The air looks heavy. I used to run when the air was like that. It always felt as if it pushed ten pounds into my lungs. I know that wasn’t the case; but it felt like it. It didn’t feel that way when I ran in the rain. Just the threat of rain made it harder to move; the actual rain made it easier. I wonder if the heavy air makes it more difficult for the car to cut through. No matter. We’re still getting better gas mileage in this car than in the other. About 20 miles per gallon. It may not seem like a lot but for an SUV weighing 6000 pounds, it’s better than we expected; better even than what was advertised.

We had a bit of lunch, ham and cheese, grapes, blueberries and bottled water. We never stop for fast food. Instead, we pack a picnic of sorts. The new car has a refrigerator in the center console. Kevin wondered about having a martini in about two hours. I told him we’d need an emergency martini kit, which he promptly named MIT. Martinis in transit.

We’re getting close to Phoenix. The traffic has picked up. We’re still moving along at about 75 but there are significantly more cars in front of and behind us. If someone spooks and hits their brakes, there’s going to be trouble. There are also more billboards, and now, finally some cookie-cutter houses beginning to appear in clumps of desert brown and dusty orange stucco. Rain has again begun to dot the windshield.

The first time I drove east to Phoenix from San Diego I remember crying when I got there. The now discarded first husband and I were moving there because he had gotten a job. The west side of Phoenix was the ugliest, raunchiest place I could remember being in and I had been to some real fleabag places on the drive across the country just a year earlier. Gallup, New Mexico comes to mind. Luckily, as we drove further east, it got prettier. In the twenty-five years since that first trip, Phoenix has expanded significantly. It got caught up in the splendor of the 90s and early 2000s and built itself up and out. It got caught, though, doing that, and is now suffering quite a bit. I’m not a fan of Phoenix; never was, even when I lived there for a year.

But Tucson is different. Yes, the west side of town is decidedly unattractive. Drive along the foothills though, to the north of the city, nearly on the county line, and it gets quite beautiful. Small, unassuming. Pleasant and polite.

Eric Clapton is singing Wonderful Tonight. I think I’ll use that as our theme song for tonight, this July 4th, when we stand atop our property and, should the storm not materialize, watch the fireworks in the distance. Wonderful tonight. Wonderful tonight.

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live out loud

A place on the sun

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 22, 2012 1:40 AM

It happened last night. For days the news had been talking about this seminal event, happening at approximately 6:38 PDT on May 20th. The annular eclipse of 2012, this year’s version of an event that actually happens fairly often – about every year and a half or so – occurred high in the Pacific sky. At 6:38, the moon completely covered the sun but because the physical size of the moon is smaller than the sun, a ring of fire appeared around the blackened outline of the moon. This ring is called the annulus, which is Latin for blindingly bright ball-of-fire-like ring, and it’s dangerous to look at without special glasses like those worn by arcwelders.

An annular eclipse doesn’t cause the sun’s light to be completely obliterated. Rather, it just sort of cools the light, makes it less yellow and warm. That’s what it did for us last night as we were perched high atop Piuma Road looking down at the steady stream of cars winding through Malibu Canyon, driving in and out of sunlight they probably didn’t even realize was changing. Further out, the Pacific Ocean was grayish blue, waves lapping lazily at the shore. I wondered how the eclipse might effect the waves since my understanding of waves and tides is that they are somewhat governed by the gravitational pull of the moon. From where we were, they looked pretty normal.

Piuma Road actually runs off of Malibu Canyon, but whereas Malibu Canyon cuts through the mountains and runs low and south, Piuma runs up the mountains and just south east. At its highest point, it is miles above the coast. We had been to this particular spot before. Several years ago, when Mars was visible in the night sky, we packed up the telescope and some wine and cheese and took the Rover up high. We used the open tailgate as a table – we even had a candle – and set up the scope to see the red planet. It was pretty cool, but we lost interest after a while. Then we trained the telescope down toward Malibu to see what we could see. At that time, there was a castle-like structure high atop one of the hills just above the city. They were having quite the party. We could see all the way through the house, though couldn’t make out any specific faces. I’ve often wondered if there were any celebs at that party. Malibu is famous for celebrities and we’ve seen our fair share in restaurants as well as just driving along Pacific Coast Highway. The castle burned down in the big fire of 2007. The site has since been razed.

Yesterday, we took the motorcycle back to that same spot. We had created our own “projector” to view the eclipse: a piece of cardboard with a pinhole and another piece of white paper. We had no idea how this would work, even though we had tested it at home, viewing the sun in all its glory as an image less than the size of a pencil eraser as projected through the tiny hole and out onto the paper. When we arrived, dismounted, removed our helmets, and took our projector out of the saddlebag, it was about 5:30 or so, right around the time that the eclipse was supposed to start. Eclipses, it seems, take some time to complete their eclipsing. We watched occasionally through our projector, our backs to the sun, holding the cardboard up to it, supplementing our time by chatting, watching Malibu below us and as the eclipse got closer to being done, marveling at the change in the light and the change in the temperature. It had been relatively warm yesterday. As the moon tried its best to block the sun, the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees. The light, as I said, also cooled. The shadows lengthened and blurred.

I remember thinking that if this is what happens during a regularly scheduled eclipse, imagine what would happen if the sun was permanently blocked, like in the event of a nuclear winter or some environmental catastrophe. The world would wither and die without the warmth and wonder of the sun. I know this is what scientists and environmentalists talk of regularly; it’s what I have long believed to be true. I wondered if non-believers had ever experienced the relatively innocuous nature of an annular eclipse and then thought about something lasting much longer.

Once the eclipse was over, at 6:39, we climbed back onto the bike and headed home. I celebrated the universe last night, the incredible nature of how things work. I don’t understand it, don’t claim to know anything, but I do understand the wonder and awesomeness of it all.

Today, I celebrated the photos that people, both professional photographers and amateurs alike from all over the west, took with their special cameras.

Our beloved Tucson, as photographed yesterday by Chris Heising

Truly astonishing and life affirming. I’m amazed that in the dead light of the eclipse such warmth and fire emerged. It’s a little like what we celebratory humans do every day.

Living it out loud.

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