Boo humbug

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 31, 2012 9:44 PM

One of my favorite characters in English literature is Ebenezer Scrooge. I can almost recite A Christmas Carol word for word, and especially Scrooge’s dialogue. He’s a crusty old screw, dastardly, miserable, alone and believes in absolutely nothing. His most famous line is, of course, “Bah! Humbug!” He uses it to dismiss anything and everything that doesn’t fit into his world-view (sounds like a certain political party). In Charles Dickens’ famous parable about finding redemption at a very special time of year, humbug is used to declare Christmas a fraud. To which I say, humbug!

But what about Halloween? This night that is haunted by people dressed as others seems to fit the definition ascribed to the word humbug: a person or thing that tricks or deceives or talks or behaves in a deceptive, dishonest, false or insincere way, even if it’s a joke. The continuous call of ‘trick or treat’ from kids dressed as pirates, princesses, convicts, Star Wars characters or comic book icons, even political personas (which also qualifies as comic most times) seems to fit that definition. They’re pretending to be something they’re not, which happens to be the definition of fraud. Though it is Halloween, and they are kids. So I will cut them a little slack.

I actually like Halloween. When I was a kid, I loved to dress up, usually in a homemade costume, something pieced together from whatever was in the house and complemented by something purchased for next to no money at the local department store. My brother and sister, both younger than I, would accompany me along with a parental figure, and we’d scurry through the neighborhood, knocking on doors, ringing doorbells, holding out our bags and saying those famous Halloween words. My favorite costume, and I have no idea why, is one where I was a socialite. I had a long, light blue, satin dress, studded with sequins. Long white gloves that reached up beyond my elbows. I wore costume jewelry on top of the gloves. I had an off-white shawl made of dog-knows what kind of faux-fur material, a yellow gauzy type wig, and a carnival masque. I think I wore jeans underneath, and a long sleeve t-shirt. It was New York, after all. At the end of October. It was cold.

There are three other costumes I remember. In college, friends and I dressed up as homeless college students and went to a few houses. The people laughed; we got candy. Years and years later, when I was between husbands, my friend Connie and I went to a Halloween party. I was a pirate, complete with a parrot tattoo on my shoulder and an eye patch. And years after that, Kevin and I went to a Halloween party as Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter. I had a very bad pageboy type wig, a blue windbreaker that sported big white FBI letters, and a fake ID. I even had a small and very fake .38 pistol strapped to a belt holster. Kevin was in an orange jumpsuit, and a white straight-jacket. We got him a mask and we rented a dolly. I wheeled him into the party (with the help of Dracula; he was too heavy for me to do alone) just like Dr. Lecter was wheeled into an airplane hangar in The Silence of the Lambs, and we were a huge hit. Even won a trophy for most creative costumes.

Tonight, we’re not really celebrating Halloween. We stopped last year because of Maguire. He was too old and as much as he loved all the kids coming to the door, getting up off the floor was too much for him. This year, because of our new Cooper, we also opted out because we don’t know him well enough to know how he’d react to constant knocks and doorbell rings.

But I’m still celebrating the hoax of it. The trick of it. The humbug of it.

According to the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, from the late 18th century, to hum meant to deceive. It was combined with the early medieval Scandinavian and the Middle English word bugge, meaning bogey which, in turn, is a derivative of the German word bögge from which böggle-mann (goblin) is derived. Then along came the Welsh Bwg or ghost. Bug can actually mean ghost or goblin and A Christmas Carol is about ghosts. So humbug is about the deceit of ghosts, goblins and ghouls. It’s about Halloween.

On this night, one filled with all manner of spooky, one that we’re not celebrating, I am instead celebrating the parody of it all. And living it out loud amongst the pretend fright of the small children I can hear racing from house to house, giggling and talking, while parents try desperately to keep up. As Ebenezer Scrooge would no doubt say if any dared to come to his door: “Boo! Humbug!”   

And dog bless us, every one.

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So we got a dog

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 28, 2012 7:06 PM

I have been missing having a dog for months, specifically missing having Maguire. After we lost him in March, our lives were less hectic. There was no more dog fur everywhere or on everything, or dog slobber on the floor. There were no trips to Petco for food and “hip cookies,” chewable treats packed with glucosamine and chondroitin for his stiff and arthritic hips. Suddenly there were no chew toys in the hospital, otherwise known as the top of the refrigerator, where all toys that had been ceremoniously pulled apart with their stuffing placed haphazardly on the floor around the now unstuffed and flat carcass went for surgical repair.

After we lost him, our lives were less full.

I have long been of the mind set that when you have something wonderful in your life, and you lose that something, you ultimately want it again. People who have long happy marriages and are completely in love with their spouse, and then lose that spouse to death, often have a strong desire to remarry again quickly. Some people dismiss those marriages and think that it’s disrespectful to the person who died. But I’ve always thought the opposite. If you are lucky enough to know the joy of a good, rewarding relationship, it’s actually a testament to the person who was lost to remarry again. Or so I’ve convinced myself.

It’s how I felt about having a dog. We had the world’s greatest dog and for 15 plus years he brought joy into our lives. When he was gone, the grief was overwhelming. It took me months before I could talk about him; longer still before I didn’t cry. Even now, as I think of that big beautiful bear, I am tearing up. I loved him so very much.

And it’s because of that love that I missed the presence of a dog in our home. Specifically, I missed Maguire’s presence, but he was never coming back. And I wanted, and yes needed, a dog in our lives. So a few weeks ago, I decided that it was getting close to time. I was feeling ready. I knew Kevin wouldn’t be quite there though, so we had to talk about it. Maguire was the love of his life and in his mind, no dog would ever be able to take his place. We talked and talked and ultimately he too came to realize that it would be OK. There will never be another Maguire, but there can be another dog who is wonderful and who brings us constant joy.

We went to the local shelter several times. We even went to another nearby shelter. We weren’t entirely sure what we wanted in terms of type but we figured we’d know when we found him or her. We did know that we wanted to adopt an adult dog, one that was at least 3. We wanted to give a dog who had been given up on a happy life. We wanted a mutt, again the type of dog a lot people don’t want. We didn’t want a puppy; everybody wants a puppy. We wanted a dog who needed to be rescued.

The shelters, sadly are filled with pit bulls and Chihuahuas, and some German shepherds. It’s fascinating and sad to think how many people had these dogs and essentially threw them away. We don’t particularly like small dogs, and pit bulls and German shepherds are a little too big. Then I started looking at some of the local rescue groups; I went on Petfinder. And there he was. A five-year old golden retriever mixed with some type of herding dog (we’re pretty sure it’s border collie). Red fur, floppy ears, and an eye infection. His name was Andy. Other than that, he was perfect. Or so we hoped.

I emailed the woman whose group (Labs and Buddies) had him. She’s an attorney in Westlake Village and we spent at least a week trying to arrange a time that would work for everyone. Finally, on Thursday late afternoon, we drove to Westlake and met this 50-pound furball self. He was nutty and unfocused, unsettled and completely oblivious to our presence. All we could do was laugh as he raced around the little grassy knoll.

We left that night, went to the Wineyard and talked about what to do. We were nervous, scared, excited, terrified. I sent a note to the rescue group that night: we wanted to be “Andy’s” forever home. On Friday late afternoon, that’s exactly what we became.

Andy became Cooper and Cooper became a Michel. For the first 24 hours, he remained unsettled and unsure; his stomach upset. He was afraid to sleep even though he was obviously exhausted. We went for a long walk on Saturday morning and a shorter one last night. Another short one this morning and then tonight, we’ll go for a longer one. Today he is markedly more calm, more comfortable in his new surroundings. As I write this, he’s sleeping on the floor here in the kitchen. I know he’s sleeping, not just because his eyes are closed (a dead giveaway I know) but because he’s dreaming. His front and back feet are racing, he’s growling. His hedgehog toy is beside him. He seems content.

We expect it to be several weeks before he knows that he’s home, before he finally understands that he’s not going anywhere. We know that it will take us a few weeks, too, to get re-acclimated to having four feet prancing on the floors. Already there is fur everywhere, and slobber; toys where for eight months there were none.

We will never forget our beloved Maguire. He will always live in our hearts. I think, and I hope, he would be pleased to know that it was because of him that we could adopt another. And so… we got another dog. Named Cooper.

So I’m new here but I think I’m going to like it

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 27, 2012 8:13 PM

I’m Cooper. Yesterday I was Andy and a long time before that I was Lucky, but I guess I was un-Lucky so I got a new name and then I was lucky enough to get another new name. I just got here yesterday. These people say they’re my new mom and dad, and they brought me home in this really big red car that I almost couldn’t get into but I did, with a little help from my new dad. I was a little afraid – I mean, who are these people? But they seemed nice and they gave me a new collar and it already had two pieces of really blingy bling on it. And I have my new name to go with my new collar and since everybody keeps calling me Cooper I guess I’m Cooper.

I don’t really understand this computer thing. I don’t really understand a lot right now, but I think I might like it here. It sure would be nice to have a forever home. I’ve been in a lot of places, especially lately, and I’m only like five years old.

Cooper Michel

Here’s my story: I lived with a family for a while and I thought they really liked me. I liked them. I thought I was lucky because that was my name. But then they had a baby and they didn’t want me anymore, so they gave me to this lady named Laura who takes dogs that nobody wants. I was really sad. I didn’t know if maybe I did something wrong but I don’t think I did. After that I was in at least three other houses with three other families but I was really just visiting, not really living with them. I was waiting until somebody found me and I could go home.

I got my picture taken and I was on a website! I think it was called Petfinders. But still, nobody wanted me. I thought it was a pretty good picture. I looked cute that day in my golden reddish fur. I think I’m a golden retriever and border collie, whatever that means. I’m just a boy. And then, finally, somebody did want me. I met these two people, the ones called mom and dad, a couple of days ago, and then last night they came with their big red car and my fancy new collar and my new name and I went home.

It’s a pretty nice home, too. I have my own water and food bowl, and a special place to sleep in the same room as my new mom and dad. I have cookies, too. Lots and lots of cookies. I get one when I sit, especially if I sit when they use my name. I sit a lot. I think I like being Cooper. Cooper equals cookies. That’s good.

Today I got up early and after my new dad took me outside, I came racing in the house and immediately went to my new mom’s side of the bed. I put my head on the bed next to her and wagged my tail really hard. I want her to like me. She petted me and rubbed me and scratched behind my ears and said “good morning, Cooper.” There wasn’t a cookie though. Probably because I didn’t sit.

Outside after a bath

I also have to remember that cookies are only in the kitchen.

Then we went for a really long walk and even stopped at a place called Starbucks so my new mom and my new dad could get something called coffee. I had some water. It was good. I met some new people and then we walked some more. When we got back home – HOME! – I had some more water and then I took a nap on the kitchen floor. I like the kitchen. It always smells good there and also, too, cookies.

I’m still a little weirded out. When I said sleep, I really was just laying quietly. I’m kind of afraid to close my eyes. What if when I open them, my new mom and dad aren’t here? What if I have to move again? I don’t want to move again. I think I like it here. I even have a new hedgehog toy.

I like my new mom and dad, too. They’re nice and they’re trying really hard to make me feel good about being here. I wish they wouldn’t try so hard. I feel pretty good already even if I’m a little afraid. But if they want me to sit when they say my name, I will. Cause then I get a cookie.

And don’t tell them that I already know, ‘k? I’m Cooper and I think I’m going to like it. 

Can we please have an honest discussion on peanut butter?

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 23, 2012 10:32 PM

I hear my husband down in the kitchen. First he opens a cabinet ­– I’m guessing it’s the pantry – to remove either crackers or the jar of peanut butter or both. If he then walks back across the kitchen to the frig I’ll know it’s just the PB. It is. The refrigerator door opens, a drawer slides out, I hear the telling rustle of the plastic bag containing the celery stalks. He’s having his favorite late afternoon snack.

I’m thinking of joining him. Like the husband unit, I’m a big fan of peanut butter, specifically of the Creamy Jif variety. I know, I know. It’s probably not as good for us as natural peanut butter or even the reduced fat Creamy Jif peanut butter. Truth time: I have actually started buying the reduced fat Creamy Jif, with its nice green banner splashed across the front. It tastes pretty good, nice and nutty, smooth with just a hint of sweet, and none of the oil that always seems to pool in natural peanut butter.

I realize that many who suffer from peanut allergies will never experience the sheer childhood joy of digging a spoon into a jar and then licking the peanut butter slowly as if it’s a lollipop. Or of watching your dog try desperately to remove the peanut butter that has gotten lodged into the arched roof of his mouth. He cocks his head and the tongue works and works and works and works as his eyes roll back in his head. Of biting into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with Wonder bread. I’m sorry about that. I also realize there are many who stay away from peanut butter because of its high caloric and fat content, but it is also high in resveratrol, protein, vitamins, magnesium and fiber. I myself don’t eat it often, but I do love it slathered on a graham cracker. Or a Ritz cracker. Or, if I’m going for healthy, a cold, crisp slice of apple.

This nuttiest of butters has actually been invented and reinvented many times in history, starting with the ancient Incas in 950 B.C. who may have been the first to turn peanuts into a paste-like substance. Crop peanuts migrated from South America to Africa when early explorers made the trip around Cape Horn. Spain soon got into the act as well, trading the wondrous little nuts snug in their double, curvaceous shell to the early American colonies. The first commercial peanut crop was grown in Virginia in the early 1800s and in North Carolina beginning in 1818.

George Washington Carver, a scientist, botanist, educator and inventor, was said to have discovered three hundred uses for peanuts, including paper, ink and oils in 1880. It was Carver who turned peanuts into a significant crop in the American South in the early 1900s.

It’s not known who actually invented peanut butter though there seems to have been a patent issued to Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal for the “finished product of the process of milling roasted peanuts between heated surfaces until the peanuts entered a fluid or semi-fluid state.” I don’t know about you but that sounds suspiciously, wonderfully like peanut butter. The year was 1884.

It was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, he of cereal notoriety, who patented a process of preparing nut meal in 1895. He actually served an early form of peanut butter to his patients. A man named Joseph Lambert created a hand-operated peanut grinder to make peanut butter in 1896; his wife, Almeeta, published the first nut cookbook, called The Complete Guide to Nut Cookery, in 1899.

Then came 1903 when another doctor, this one named Ambrose Straub, patented a peanut-butter making machine so that he could serve protein to his toothless and elderly patients. Life as we know it has never been the same, even for we who are still blessed with a full set of teeth.

Fast-forward all the way to 1922 when Joseph Rosefield fixed peanut butter’s tendency to separate by adding hydrogenated vegetable oil. He called his new creamy consistency Skippy.

Creamy Jif debuted in 1958, complete with a mascot named Jifaroo, a blue kangaroo. I don’t know why I’m so partial to Jif. Maybe it’s because of the ‘choosy mothers choose Jif’ tagline. I doubt it. I think it’s the corn syrup, soy protein, molasses, and the always tasty copper sulfate. There are 190 calories in 2 tablespoons.

Jif makes 250,000 jars of peanut butter a day. It takes 540 peanuts to fill one 12-ounce jar. According to estimates, kids eat at least 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during their time in school. I think that sounds low. There is some anecdotal evidence that says a teaspoon of peanut butter can cure the hiccups. I’m skeptical, though I can see how just the sheer force of trying to lick peanut butter off of a spoon can refocus your focus away from hiccups and thus cure them. I’ve heard tell of peanut butter being able to intervene in all manner of conflicts, including bickering children and warring countries. The jury is still out.

What I do know is that peanut butter makes me smile. As if to prove my point, my husband is snapping off pieces of celery and crunching happily. I can hear the chew all the way upstairs. I smile, too.

And then get up and walk downstairs because while peanut butter is not the meaning of life, it is the meaning of this very nutty afternoon and this equally nutty blog post.  

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Happiness for stress

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 21, 2012 8:57 PM

Everybody is so stressed these days, suffering from the dreaded physical, mental and emotional pressure of day-to-day living. We’re not sleeping well, we’re eating badly, we’re snapping at each other.

My friend, Bobbi, a licensed marriage family therapist, said the other day that all of her clients are fairly vibrating with the stress of uncertainty. It is permeating every aspect of every day. People seem angrier than usual, they’re uncertain about what they did yesterday, what will happen today and are downright terrified of tomorrow. Good news is almost automatically juxtaposed with bad. Good feelings are countered with bitter. Genuine reflection is rebuffed in favor of retrospection. Let’s look back, not forward. No! Let’s move forward, not in reverse.

It is driving everyone I know, including me, nuts.

I believe we all have a strong desire to be optimistic about who we are and where we’re going, but all of the fog can shroud, clog our intentions. We want and yet we get buried in the multitudes of fear that surround us. We turn on our computers and the headlines scream: many have died, more are sick, the sky is falling and chicken little has been proven right. We turn on the television and are treated to much the same in the guise of talking heads sharing, sometimes with a bit too much glee, the horrid news of the day. Other talking heads simply shout at one another. You suck, no you suck, well you suck more, no you suck the most.

The newspapers only report good things on the entertainment pages and even those aren’t uniformly joyful. Sometimes they report about a beloved entertainment figure that has passed away. Sometimes they provide a story about how a particular part of the industry in a particular city is losing money and thus people are out of work. Generally a downer. Sometimes there are stories about Lindsay Lohan or the Kardashians, enough to bring an honest, hard-working, non-reality-show-watching woman to her knees.

Talking to friends and family isn’t always better. Some are suffering through tough economic times. Jobs aren’t materializing; promised work never arrives. Most have some sort of financial strain if not bordering on financial ruin. There are illnesses and maladies and fears of illnesses and maladies. There is loss and grief.

As if on cue, here come the holidays. I saw the first Christmas commercial about a week ago, for Target. I nearly threw my wine glass at the TV but didn’t want to waste the grape.

Even closer is the looming and glooming presidential election. Nearly everyone save some mysterious three percent whose existence I’m beginning to question has a stake in this fight. Most of the people I hang with are blue; some are red. Each side is equally passionate, equally nasty, and consumed with dread that the other guy might somehow, against all odds, win. The world as we know it will come to an end. Dogs and cats will begin living together. I will begin to drink white wine. OMG.

Stress vibrates. It keeps us up at night, keeps the heart racing and the brain waves waving. Blood flows a little too quickly and pounds at the temples. Joints ache. Extreme ideas surface and the imagination works overtime creating all manner of hysterical scenarios.

But what if the imagination worked instead to create something positive? Imagine, instead, that you get a new job, that the election will be OK. Imagine, instead, the twinkling lights of the holidays, the music, the crisp air and snuggly fires. The opportunity to be with the people you love, engaging in activities you enjoy, even if those activities involve not being with the people you love.

Imagine there’s no war, no killing, no anger.

Imagine channeling stress so that it becomes happiness. Turning hopeless to hopeful, pointless to the point. Seeing the potential of turning bad into good, of looking to the morning sky and realizing that with each new day comes a new opportunity. Imagine the joy of digging deep into your happiness reserves in order to find a way to make anger a kinder, gentler contentedness.

How do we do it? Some people exercise, some meditate, some surrender the gloom, some open a nice bottle of wine. What brings you the most comfort? Wherever you hide your happiness, you can instead hide your stress. Swap them out, for an hour, a day, a week, a year, a lifetime.

Celebrate the rainbow you find. It might just change your life. 

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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 … 

Que syrah syrah

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 19, 2012 6:53 PM

Our syrah grapes are five days old today. We thought about celebrating by sticking five lit candles into the cap that has formed atop the fermentation but decided it was probably not a good idea. As wonderful and strong as the grapes appear to be, we doubted seriously they could blow out their own candles. Instead we stood quietly and thought the tune “Happy Birthday to you,” or at least I did.

Five days ago, our grapes were clusters on stems, ripe, round, small and firm. They had a sweet taste with just the slightest hint of attitude. After the stems were removed and the grapes were crushed, their color was more angry. Still deeply purplish blue but with strong hints of magenta.

We brought them home from the crush and wrapped them in their new onesie, an old bed sheet cut into a nice neat square that fit over the top of the fermenter, put them to bed next to the Range Rover, turned off the light and let them sleep. On Monday, the fun began. We added the yeast and suddenly, these babies were having a party. Snapping, crackling, popping and physically trying to separate themselves, with the juice pushed down and the skins rising to the top to form a cap. Each day, we’ve dutifully taken their temperature. They’re not sick, but they do tend to get feverish when fermenting. We did our best to keep them around 75º. The two nights when they threatened to get warmer and topped 80º, we dropped a couple of frozen bottles of water through the cap to great fanfare. It was like a miniature wine bomb. But in the morning, the temps had returned to normal.

Que Syrah Syrah, oil on canvas, by Jennifer Evenhus


Each day we punched down the cap, pushing the 3 to 4 inches of grape skins back down into the juice, forcing them to play together. We did this about five times a day.

We also read the sugar content. On Monday, it started at 24.5 and the goal was to get it to drop to 0. When it reached 0, the fermenting process was essentially over and it was time to get schooled, or at least pressed. Today, after five days of rocking, rolling and snarling in the garage, it has calmed down. It’s so quiet it’s almost eerie. The cap is less now than it was, and not as heavy. It’s as if it has finally been tamed. It’s ready to make another drive so that we can feed the skins through a wine press to squeeze out the last bit of juice. Then, we start the rest of the process. Racking to clarify, testing pH levels and finally aging.

The next week or so will be fairly mellow, at least compared to the last five days.

And then, syrah’s baby brother arrives in the form of cabernet sauvignon and the late nights, the not wanting to sleep, the rising temperatures, the purple cradle cap will appear again and we will react accordingly.

But that’s next week. Today is all about the five-day birthday of our syrah grapes – I feel like they should have a name, something macho but with a tender side, like Butch. We’re very proud of all they’ve accomplished this week. Soon they’ll begin to age and grow into the fine wine we know, and hope, they can be. We’ll be with them every step of the way, listening when they need listening to, taking charge when authority is needed, keeping them on the path to grapeness. It’s their destiny, it’s what will be.  It’s the journey to maturity, shown in a clear, deep, inky syrah wine known to family and friends as Butch, from Michel Cellars.

Where whatever will be, will be wine. 

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From the shores of Lake Erie

by Lorin Michel Thursday, October 18, 2012 10:10 PM

Our son, Justin, is in school in New York, at State University New York Fredonia, studying theater production with an emphasis in lighting design and electricity. He’s a senior this year but will graduate in December of 2013 because he transferred and in order to obtain the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree he is working toward, SUNY requires two years from transfers.

We don’t talk to him very often. Over the course of the last two years, he has gotten progressively busier. It started when he got his first summer internship at a theater out on Long Island right after his sophomore year. He was in Tucson at the time. The internship went so well that he was able to go back for the holiday season last December and again for this past summer. Once he also made the decision to transfer to New York because the program was superior to that at the University of Arizona and started last January, we also aren’t able to see him as often. It’s simply too far. In fact, we haven’t seen him since March and even then it was with his girlfriend. We haven’t had good quality Justin time since … well, I don’t know how long.

We miss him but we understand how busy the schedules of college students are and especially college students studying theater. I have no doubt that my parents never heard from me when I was in college and working, and I was only about an hour and a half away. Of course, I was in school in the relative dark ages, in the 1980s, when there weren’t such modern conveniences as telephones. We had to trudge through piled snowdrifts without shoes to get to class; there was no way we could get home to see the parents.

Luckily times have progressed. Not only are there computers with skype and email, but there are cell phones with texting capabilities. It is virtually impossible to not stay in touch with your parents in this day and age, though Justin does a fairly admirable job. This is not complaining. I’m not feeling sorry for us. I’m simply stating a fact. We don’t have a lot of communication even with all of the communication tools at our disposal, largely because of his schedule. He’s a full time theater student, which means lots of classes, both in his chosen major and general education, and he’s also readying a show for production. It’s currently Chicago, and it opens tonight.

Which is why we heard from him this afternoon. There’s nothing more he can do; the show is ready to go. He just has to be there tonight when the curtain goes up. So he had time to call and chat with the parental units.

Justin and mom, at Disneyland, 1996

We were just getting back from our walk at lunchtime when Kevin’s cell phone rang. He didn’t have his glasses so he couldn’t read the name on the display. He handed it to me because he knew I could. It read: Call from Justin’s cell.


We all talked for a half hour or so, about what’s going on with school and classes, about the production, about him needing a raincoat. As if on cue, a howling wind blew through the phone connection and he told us to hold on. Then he started to laugh. “There’s a storm blowing in off the lake,” he said. “It’s cold and blustery, and it’s gonna freakin’ pour.” And then he laughed again, that deep blustery laugh of his that we could feel deep in our soul, even over a cell phone speaker, over more than 2500 miles.  We could see his smile, his dark brown eyes, his rich auburn hair that’s probably just a little too long and curling at the collar. We could feel his presence.

We miss our boy and the man he has become. He’ll be home for Thanksgiving and maybe even this year for Christmas, and all three of us are looking forward to it.

We are officially parents whose kid has left the nest, and we’re OK with that, because he’s happy, he’s healthy and he’s living his life out loud. It’s as it should be. 

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live out loud

A little bisque doll

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 17, 2012 10:17 PM

She stands about three and a half or so inches high. Her skin, once a pale white bisque is dirty now from years on this planet. I have no idea how many. She wears a little brown paper dress with a frilled collar of the same color and material. Her hands flair out at her side. I love her slightly pigeoned left toe, her painted blue headband tucked under her molded hair.

She sits on the shelf on my desk, directly in front of my computer, surrounded by other odd little mementos, books and items I’ve picked up along the way. There is a Santa memo holder though Santa is hidden by many notes. There’s a Team America mug, faded almost to obscurity, filled with a non-working flashlight, a Mighty Mouse spinning toy, and my First Holy Communion pin received so, so many years ago still in its plastic box, still safely secured on its foam packing.

There is a beautiful Swiss Army pen knife, still in its chrome box, a 1932 coin/plate commemorating Charles Dickens and a bookseller named Charles Sessler. Both sit atop a six-pack of reference books now gathering dust. There’s a dictionary, a thesaurus, a book of quotes, a world atlas, a grammar guide and a book of computer terms. They haven’t been opened in years, but they’re still cool to have.

To the right is a small corked bottle filled with poetry. Tiny pieces of magnetized words, a writer’s paradise, a Writer’s Remedy. Next to that is my Samantha Stevens doll in all of her Bewitched regalia, complete with hat and broom. Years ago when I worked at a dot com start up, the guys responsible for the look and feel of the site had designed and manufactured TV character dolls in their previous lives and they had all of them in their office. They gave me Samantha. She sits atop more books. A very old edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, The Children of Dickens, illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, and a Visionaire’s Fashion book.

There’s a little red pen floating in a magnetized red donut.

And next to it, front and center, my little bisque doll with her little bubble belly, like a little girl. There’s a hole in the bottom of her left foot. Maybe that’s why she turns it in slightly; maybe she was once on a stand.  Her face is cherubic. Her eyes are askance. Her tiny, pursed lips are painted red.

I don’t know where she came from. I think I found her at an antique swap meet years ago when we used to go to antique swap meets on Sunday mornings. They used to be quite the family outing. Everybody always had to buy one thing, even if it was just a bag of kettle corn which is often what all three of us ended up with, one each. On one occasion, I bought a little bisque doll. Now she watches over me every day.

I’d love to know what she’s thinking. Maybe that everything is wonderful if only because she has this wonderful little paper dress and it has a frilly collar and ice cream is the greatest invention ever. Maybe everything is wonderful because she gets to watch this wacky woman hitting keys on a computer every day. Maybe it’s because it’s Wednesday.

Maybe it’s just because.

I love her innocence. It makes me feel hopeful. It makes me want to celebrate something. Today, it’s her.

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live out loud

The origin of the coffee klatch

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 16, 2012 10:08 PM

This morning, as we turned the corner from the Fresh & Easy parking lot and started down through the shaded cavern of the Kanan Road sidewalk, underneath the still leafy canopy, past the high hedges on the right and the open vista to the left, where we noticed something quite frightening. A group of at least 10 women, dressed in expensive sweats and equally expensive running/walking shoes, with their professionally coiffed hair tucked beautifully under an appropriately blingy baseball cap, only one pushing a stroller with a toddler, all walking up the other side of the street. They had a purpose. They were motivated. They were women on a mission, one that we immediately decided meant getting to Starbucks.

They were a coffee klatch in the making.

I’ve always thought that the phrase coffee klatch was weird. For the longest time, I actually thought it was ‘coffee clutch,’ which actually makes more sense in that you can clutch your coffee as you drink. Sometimes you really clutch it, especially if you’re tired or cold. When I found out that it was actually ‘klatch’ instead of ‘clutch,’ I thought… “huh?”

Klatch is from the German word “klatsch” meaning gossip. It was created either in 1953 or in the late 1800s, depending on who you believe, as an onomatopoeic word. It sounds like it says. It was originally Kaffeeklatsch. It means a casual gathering of people, usually with refreshments. Evidently there can be all manner of klatches, from sewing to poker. Ultimately, then, a klatch is about socializing.

Starbucks basically re-invented coffee as the ultimate social-gathering beverage – klatch – when they opened their first store in Seattle on March 30, 1971. Suddenly it was hip and cool for the younger generation – read: those in high school and college – to gather in a very hip and cool location with equally hip and cool music playing and sip coffee. Of course, the coffee served is rarely just coffee (though in fairness to Starbucks, they do actually serve “just coffee” usually in a medium roast, a dark roast and even a decaffeinated roast). Starbucks coffee tends to be of the grande half-caff, double shot, low fat, no whip, hold the pickles variety. I personally like a grande low-fat latte most of the time; I wait all year for Pumpkin Spice latte to re-debut.

The original coffee klatches started in 1683 in Europe. One of the most famous was Caffe Florian. The Middle East soon followed, introducing coffee houses that became hotbeds of artistic and political discussion, for men only of course. They were actually called penny universities because the fee to enter was one cent, for all the coffee one could consume.

Coffee is grown and produced in fifty countries. Forty percent of Columbia’s national economy comes from coffee exports. The coffee industry employs more than 25 million people. Americans consume more than 30 percent of the world’s roasted coffee, or about 2.5 billion pounds annually. Much of that is consumed in the world’s largest coffeehouse company, Starbucks, with 19,972 stores in 60 countries.

Which brings us back to our klatching ladies, walking up the hill to the Starbucks at Lindero Canyon and Kanan Road, on a beautiful, warm October day. We watched them move up the hill and disappear around the curve, all the while thinking… how nice to be able to get together with a group of people that you like, and sit and sip a Venti Soy Latte, triple shot. With whip. And a muffin. For the baby.

We continued on our walk, envious, and when we got home, had our own miniature klatch, just the two of us, in the kitchen, pouring from the Cuisinart. With a shot of half and half.

Then I clutched my coffee and my laptop and Kevin clutched his coffee and his notebooks, and off we went to work. 

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live out loud

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