In which I wonder if being afraid is something to fear or if it’s actually something that means I’m alive

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 11, 2013 8:25 AM

Fear is an oddly exhilarating emotion. It rushes through you, makes your heart beat faster and your breath catch in your throat. Suddenly every nerve ending tingles and your skin it hot. You feel incredibly light and abominably heavy all at the same time. It’s frightening. It’s a lot like love, only scarier.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Fear is one of those things that happens when you least expect it as well as when you most expect it. Again, much like love.

Talking about what I fear the most is frightening and I’m loathe to do it because I fear, sometimes, that giving voice to something can make it come true. My husband says that to me all the time, usually in regards to the car and specifically to the Porsche. The Porsche is a beautiful car cosmetically but because of its ever advancing age, it is starting to have some major issues, issues that we don’t want to pay a lot of money to get fixed, for two reasons: a) we don’t have a lot of money, and b) we don’t drive the car that much. It’s hard to sink money into something that sits. But because we don’t want to invest and because it does sit, it doesn’t run well and so I have a tendency to say bad things about it. Kevin always says that I shouldn’t do that because the car will hear me and then it will break down.


He calls it karma. He’s afraid that the car will become even worse because it senses that we don’t like it anymore. If that’s the case, perhaps it would be better served to get back into our good graces by running really, really well. I don’t fear the Porsche, and karma – or, in this case, carma – is usually something that happens to bad people, getting what they deserve and all that.

The fear of losing someone close haunts me.

I fear disease. When I was young, I fell into the trap of often watching “disease of the week” movies and I would find that I had the same symptoms. I think I was vulnerable and unhappy. I needed attention, and if I could have some unique disease, I would be special. My sister and I have talked about this. It wasn’t really hypochondria, not in the classic sense. It was just fear of being ordinary.

The fear of failure is heavy enough to suffocate.

The fear of moving, someday, is enough to keep me awake at night. Fear of not having work, of losing work, of things changing too much and not enough or not at all. I wake up sometimes at 3 am and my heart is racing and it takes me a while before I realize what I’m afraid of. It’s the unknown.

I’m afraid of fear. I want to be strong and confident and always sure of what I’m so sure of. The problem is that I’m not always that sure of anything. I am cursed with self-awareness. I am not cursed with the ability to not think, to not care, to not wonder. It scares me too much to be totally OK with everything in my life. It doesn’t make sense. That’s not what life is.

Fear is a living, breathing thing. It washes up over you and drowns you in action and inaction and paralyzation. It is the opposite of hope. It can drag you to the depths of despair. But I believe it is also something you can work through and emerge stronger because of. Fear is an enabler but it is also a generator. It is something to be afraid of but I think it can also be something to rise above.

My mother always said that “if it doesn’t scare you just a little, it probably isn’t worth doing.” To that I might add that if it does scare you, things will change. Whether the change is good or bad isn’t always up to us. But to the extent we have control, change can give us power, and the strength to not be afraid. Or at least to not let it consume us.

And I believe that’s a good thing, or at least it can be. If we embrace it; if we celebrate all that can come by … rising above. If we know that it means we’re alive.

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live out loud

Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger, melt

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:07 PM

This post is by request from my carnivorous husband, largely because I was a little bereft of ideas today and on our walk I asked him to give me a topic. He actually came up with a couple but they weren’t necessarily relevant or celebratory, and one I might actually use next week. But he had a patty melt yesterday for lunch and it sparked an entire discussion about the difference between a cheeseburger and a patty melt since they’re both burgers with melted cheese. That in turn sparked a discussion about Saturday Night Live and the Billy Goat Tavern parodied so wonderfully by John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray back in the 1970s.

The Billy Goat Tavern started in 1934 when William Sianis bought a restaurant called the Lincoln Tavern for just $205. It was across from the Chicago Stadium (now known as United Center). The restaurant got its nickname when a goat fell off of a passing truck and wandered inside. Sianis adopted the goat, grew a goatee, acquired the nickname “Billy Goat” and soon changed the name of the restaurant. A marketing savant and publicity seeker, Sianis posted a sign in 1944 that said “No Republicans allowed.” It was the year Chicago hosted the Republican Convention, and the tavern was packed the entire time with Republicans demanding to be served.

Billy Goat moved the tavern to Lower Michigan Avenue in 1964. Because it was literally located between Chicago’s two main newspapers, the Tribune and the Sun-Times, it was a hub for reporters and was mentioned in many newspaper columns, particularly those of Mike Royko.

The years went by and the Billy Goat grew in popularity. It had great, greasy food that consisted primarily of burgers ordered in the most interesting way.  It usually sounded something like this: "Cheezborger! Cheezborger! You want doublecheez?!? Who's next!?! WHO'S NEXT!?! Don't look at the menu, look at ME! I order for you – DOUBLECHEEZ!!! It's Friday, doublecheez for everybody! It's payday! Triplecheez for the big guy! Want French fries with that? No fries - CHEEPS!  No Pepsi - COKE!" These are the rantings made famous in 1978 by Belushi, Aykroyd and Murray on Saturday Night Live. The original skit was based on a sketch originally written by Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci) when he was an advertising copywriter. Belushi and Murray already knew of the Billy Goat Tavern from when they were at Second City, the theatre and improv club in Chicago.

Many a Saturday night in my teen years was spent laughing at these skits. I’d never been to Chicago at that point and didn’t know the skit was based on a real place until years later when I met Chicago-native Kevin. He took me there on our first trip to the windy city.

Jimmy Buffet also made the cheeseburger famous with his song Cheeseburger in Paradise, coincidentally recorded in 1978. I don’t think there was a connection. His inspiration didn’t come from Chicago but from the Caribbean. According to Buffet’s website, he took a boat to the islands and subsisted of canned food and peanut butter during the journey, dreaming only of eating a “piping hot cheeseburger.” When he got to Road Town, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, there was actually a restaurant serving American cheeseburgers. Overdone and slightly burnt, but cheeseburgers nevertheless.

Not to be confused at all with Chicago or Saturday Night Live or Jimmy Buffet, there is also I can has cheezburger, a website that pairs funny pictures of animals, especially cats, with funny sayings. The website was started in 2007 by Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami. It got its name with its first posting of a smiling cat known as Happycat, with the caption: “I can has cheezburger?”

I can has cheeseburger myself every once in a while. I admit to loving one with melted Swiss and sautéed mushrooms. I also like a cheeseburger with jalapenos and cheddar cheese. I don’t have them often, but when the craving strikes, I usually give in.

The patty melt thing I don’t quite get. If you’re going to have a hamburger with cheese, why put it on bread? Evidently, it also comes with grilled onions and the cheese can only be Swiss or cheddar. It’s traditionally served on rye bread, though some people (like me, if I would ever order such a thing) prefer sourdough. The burger, the onions and the cheese are placed between two slices of bread and then the bread is fried in butter, sort of like a grilled cheese.

Patty Melt is also a cartoon character and mascot of the beef council.

A cheeseburger is on a bun and has everything on it you desire. If I had to choose I’d go with a cheezborger. Not sure about the cheeps since I prefer fries, and as for the Pepsi, that would be OK, but I think I’d go with a cold beer. Especially if it was served in paradise. 

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And the eyes are wise

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 6, 2013 7:47 PM

One of my loyal readers, Fred, commented on a recent blog post that he just needs “to look into an animal’s eyes … to gain clarity.” It got me thinking and thus writing. I, too, have spent much time looking into the eyes of my dogs, the late, great Maguire, our vintage puppy, and the new addition to the family, one Mr. Cooper, our pre-owned puppy. Interestingly both of them have similar eyes. Brown, alert, and clear. Looking into them was and is like looking into their souls.

Kevin used to hold Maguire’s head in his hands, one hand cupped on either side of his ears, and pull his face close so they could have a conversation. Maguire allowed it because he loved his dad so much. Kevin said that he had absolutely no doubt that Maguire understood everything Kevin was saying; that he could almost hear Maguire answering, with his eyes.

The eyes of an animal, especially one who is older or even just growing old, can tell us so much. They are wise with life and love. They look at you with such astonishing clarity they can almost make you self-conscious. It’s as if they can see if you’re being honest, if you’re a fraud. And they love you anyway. This is the power that comes through the gaze of an old dog.

Last week, Roy and Bobbi gave us a book to commemorate the anniversary of Maguire’s passing. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year today that he left us. The passage of time – and the wonder of our dear Cooper – has made it easier to bear but we still miss him all the time. We miss his big furry self sprawled on the floor, his drool drying on the wood, his stretches and his noises. We miss his patented three-woof announcement for everything from “I see you” to “there’s someone at the door” to “yes, I would very much like that piece of chicken, thank you.” Woof, woof. Woof.

Our beloved Maguire a year ago, watching us from the sunshine of the backyard. 

The book is called Old Dogs are the Best Dogs and it’s by Gene Weingarten with photography by Michael Williamson. In it, Weingarten writes: “They find you brilliant even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac: Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

“As they age, dogs change, always for the better. Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing – his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness, his unequivocal love. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce.

“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these things are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But above all, they seem at peace. This last quality is almost indefinable; if you want to play it safe, you can call it serenity. I call it wisdom.”

So do I. And it is most visible in the way the eyes of an old dog follow your movements without the head following along. It is how they look at you, how they see you, how they express their love and knowledge of all that you are completely through their eyes. Old dogs don’t wag their tails anymore. The mechanism either doesn’t work or it takes too much effort. All of their expression comes through their eyes and even their ears; through a kiss on the nose.

Maguire used to watch us both at nearly the same time. He would be lying on the floor, with his head tucked between his two front paws and his eyes would move to Kevin on one couch, and then switch to me on the opposite couch. His eyebrows would arch as his eyes tracked first one way, then the other. After doing this six or seven times, the eyes would begin to close. He’d fight it a little but only half-heartedly. Soon, he’d be sleeping. He had secured his people. Life was good.

Cooper, just a few days ago, in the kitchen, gazing

Maguire was 15 years old when he died last March. We still feel his presence, we still speak of him all the time; sometimes I still hear his tags on the floor, the heavy sigh as he’d lie down, letting the world escape through his nose. I can still smell his fur. I can still see his beautiful brown eyes.

I see them now; I see them in Cooper’s brown eyes. The depth isn’t there yet, the wisdom hasn’t come to him – he’s still in that loopy middle age nutty stage, still doing the helicopter tail wag round and round and round – but it will. Just give him time. 

The moment of clarity

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 5, 2013 8:40 PM

Every once in a while I am hit by a bolt of lightning and it’s not always because I have done something to disparage a god or religion I don’t necessarily subscribe to. Whether the lightning bolt shoots down from the sky or up from the ground or out of the rocks to my right makes no real difference. The bolt is the same and it singes my brain with something approaching certainty. It is my aha moment. Suddenly, I know what to do about whatever it is that has been swirling around my head, giving me trouble or making me wonder about, well, what to do. It becomes crystal clear. Problem solved.

I love the aha moment, the lightning bolt. I love the feeling of certainty it brings. Just the other day I was trying to figure out what to have for dinner and suddenly my gut said “don’t do pizza. Do pasta.” And just like that I knew what to do.

OK. Silly example, I know. I was trying to lighten the mood.

The aha, the bolt, the gut instinct. They all happen during times of uncertainty. Usually it happens when I want to do one thing very badly but all three of those (the aha bolt instinct) are screaming at me to do the opposite. Should I take that new job? Should I buy a new car? Should I take a year off and travel the world? I really, really think I should.

The aha bolt instinct gives me the whoa I need to stop myself, think clearly and make the right decision so that I don’t go off the rails, don’t fly off the handle, don’t get bogged down in something that really isn’t good for me to be doing.

It’s something that I first became aware of on Kevin’s and my second date. We went to see a very romantic film starring Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, among others, called Pulp Fiction. It’s extremely vulgar, profane, violent as hell and crazy in its twisting of time and story. It also has moments when Tarantino-style philosophy comes through. Usually with blood and gore attached and gushing out on the screen, but it comes through nevertheless. One such philosophical scene takes place in the diner at the end after Vincent and Jules have finally cleaned up their killing spree. They’re having breakfast, discussing what they want to do in life, and Jules, who wants to simply walk the world, to change his life, says: “I was sitting here, eating my muffin and drinking my coffee and replaying the incident in my head, when I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.” He was seeing the way. I was realizing that I had found someone I could love. On just the second date.

The aha, the lightning bolt, the gut instinct, the whoa. The WTF. The moment when life becomes clear. The moment of clarity.

A moment of clarity is when you suddenly get a deep understanding of some truth that's been out of reach for you. When your vision becomes unclouded and instead becomes focused by a mad rush of what has been called an epiphany or revelation. People suffering from addictions use this phrase to refer to a moment when they are not being affected by their substance and can "see" or understand, finally, the nature of their problem and finally realize the need to stop and get help. It’s a moment of clarity – of clearity – from whatever is making the brain cloudy, making the person unsure.

I love the moments of clarity, those rare times when things in life do become crystal clear, when suddenly the way forward has a light shining brightly, a beacon showing the way to go. It’s impossible to know when it’s going to happen but when it does, it is joyous. And always worth celebrating. 

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Great things are going to happen

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 4, 2013 8:53 PM

I was talking with Bobbi today about some of the issues we’re all facing, issues we have little to no control over. Finances, work, life and death. She spoke about Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who created something called logotherapy, a focus founded on the belief that it is the striving to find meaning in one’s life that is the primary, most powerfully motivating and driving force in each of us. His landmark book, Man’s Search for Meaning, talked about how we need to identify a purpose in life, something we can feel positively about, and then totally immerse ourselves in imagining exactly the outcome we’ve envisioned. It was a mindset he developed during his time as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II.

Frankl was deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto on September 25, 1942 where he initially worked in a clinic as a general practitioner and then as a psychiatrist. He was even allowed to conduct open lectures on a variety of mental health topics. Two years later, on October 19, 1944, he was sent to Auschwitz, processed and moved to Kaufering, a camp affiliated with Dachau. He spent five months working as a slave laborer before being transferred to Türkheim where he stayed until he was liberated by the Americans in 1945. Frankl’s wife died at Bergen-Belsen, his father died at Theresienstadt, his mother died at Auschwitz as did his brother. A sister survived by escaping to Australia. Frankl survived by understanding that even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanizing situation, life has potential meaning, and that even suffering is meaningful.

He wrote that “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

It’s amazing to think of it actually, that someone who endured such incredible punishment for the simple reason that he was Jewish, that a man who witnessed the sheer brutality of other men, could find something to embrace in the midst of such horror. That he could, in essence, celebrate the joy of life. It may be the ultimate in rising above and in using the power of one’s mind and the depth of one’s soul to see how you want life to be rather than how it is.

I’m sure I’m over simplifying. I have known about Frankl and about Man’s Search for Meaning, but haven’t actually read it. I should. I suspect I would be even more moved, and more determined than ever to think positively, to envision what and how I want my life to be. Sometimes it can be difficult to believe there are good things coming because it’s impossible to see them right now. So many people I’m close to are going through so much, and there’s nothing that can be done to ease their pain. Nothing but time, and I suppose the ability to try to see that something better will eventually return; indeed prevail. We all have it, though some days it can be literally impossible to get to that point.

Bills need to be paid, money needs to be gathered, work needs to be harnessed. People need to be buried, pets to be cremated. Each day can feel like you’re spinning your wheels or like you’re wearing cement sneakers. You can’t see past the frustration, the fear; the sadness; the despair.

I hate seeing people suffer; can’t stand to have the people I care about grieving or struggling. What to do? Be there, I suppose. Try to offer support and hope, and joy, sometimes a smile.

To help all of us to “live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” Easier said than done, I know. I have dark days and sleepless nights, too, but I believe that things will get better. I know that great things are going to happen if I just see them in my imagination. That’s where the joy of life exists. I’m sure of it. 

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The adventures of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 3, 2013 10:27 PM

Episode 3: Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles

In the ongoing saga that is the proper training of our pre-owned puppy, Cooper Michel, I thought it prudent to report the following: Trainer Danielle came yesterday morning, was here for another hour and a half, we learned even more and we have homework.

She called just before the appointed time of 9:30, said she was about a mile away and that she was going to drive by the house, honk her horn, and then park down the street a bit. We were to get Cooper suited up and then exit the house to walk. In essence she wanted to see how we were progressing after our first training session two and a half weeks ago. We stood anxiously in the kitchen, watching out the window. Cooper, oblivious as always, was crashed on the floor with best good friend Wubba. We’d already gone for a walk earlier in the morning so that he could have some regular time, and to get in what we call Pee Ops. Part of our training is to control him at all times, including when he gets to pull up at a tree and squirt. Hence, the Pee Ops.

Danielle drove by, honked twice, we got Cooper up, attached his pinch collar and leash (again) and prepared to exit stage left. He was jazzed. Two walks! And it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! Woohoo! Saturday’s are the best day in the world! I really like it here! You guys are the best parents ever!

We left the house with Kevin on leash duty, or as we call it, the Chain Gang. We stopped in the driveway and looked to see where Trainer Danielle was standing. I finally spotted her behind several cars just down the street. She motioned with her hand for us to walk. We started moving, with Cooper merrily trotting next to us. Then she emerged from behind the cars, with a dog.

Now regular readers will remember “the incident,” that horrid Saturday three weeks ago when our little Cujo attacked a poor, unsuspecting Golden Retriever after managing to unhook his leash. “The incident” was the catalyst for Trainer Danielle. “The incident” made us terrified of ever seeing another dog on the street again, ever. Did I mention ever?

Two and a half weeks ago, in our first session, Danielle had brought two of her own dogs, a big American Bandogge Mastiff and a German shepherd, the most well behaved dogs we have ever seen. Which they should be, of course, because she’s a dog trainer and her own dogs are her best references. And Cooper learned to be just fine with them. Maybe he would be with this new dog, too.

The new dog was a jet black labradoodle who looked a bit like a big throw rug or afghan.  She stopped in the street, gave him a hand signal and he collapsed into a pile, with a front paw tucked underneath. She indicated that we should keep going, then turn around and come back. She got her dog to get up, walked a bit more, then collapsed him again. Up down, up down, down up, down up. He just kept lying on the asphalt on command. At least it was still early. There was no traffic and the heat wasn’t yet horrible (it got to about 85º yesterday).

Trainer Danielle with Cooper

Finally, she told us to stop, in the shade, and she brought black rag-dog closer and closer, telling us what to do with Cooper, watching how we were with him and how he was reacting to the new dog. Once on the sidewalk, she had her dog turn around and lay down with his back and butt facing Cooper.

“Kevin,” she said from beneath her huge sunglasses. “Bring him over here so he can get a whiff.”

Kevin edged closer; Cooper took a smell.

“Ok, let him closer and relax the leash.”

Kevin: “No.”

“It’s fine. Let him get closer. Let him smell and sniff and lick if he wants.”

Kevin. “No.”

Remember. “The incident.” We’re going to have commemorative t-shirts made.

After several more back and forths with Danielle saying let him go and Kevin stubbornly refusing, Kevin relented and Cooper got good and close, and proceeded to perform the equivalent of a somewhat pornographic act on the black rag-dog, who just laid there and did absolutely nothing.

Danielle kept referring to the dog as Crew. I asked if he was one of hers. Nope. He was a client’s dog and she was taking him for the weekend because the clients were having a huge party and they didn’t want the poor dog relegated to the dog run for the entire day/night. Plus he’s kind of a wimp. Just a year and a half old, Danielle has been training him since he was 8 weeks old and he is afraid of his own shadow. I asked what his name was. It’s Crouton. So Crew is actually Crou, and his complete name is Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles. Or as Danielle called him yesterday, “bait.”

It was funny. Sort of. You know, given “the incident.”

After Cooper got a few more licks in, we wanted to ask if Crouton tasted like a garlic or an herb, and if it was like having a Caesar salad.

But we didn’t.

Because that would have been rude.

An hour and a half and much training later, we began to move into the reward part of the training. As in see-a-dog, get-a-treat. We’re reconditioning and rewiring Cooper’s brain to believe that seeing a dog is a really good thing and it leads to treats. We have two weeks to practice this theory. We’re calling it Pavlov’s Cooper.

In the mean time, the misadventures of Cooper Michel, pre-owned puppy, continue. At least he has a real name.

Living it out loud in the OP with Coopertino, Cooperlicious, Cooper Dooper, Coop de Ville, the Cadillac of rescue puppies. 

Everything old isn't necessarily

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 2, 2013 11:44 PM

It’s funny how you do old people things as you get older. I noticed several years ago that I started reading the obituaries in the newspaper. I never know anyone who’s died, except for the ones who are famous, but I read them, or at least scan them, every day. I started listening to the old standards in music several years ago as well, whereas I wouldn’t have been caught dead (a little obit reference) listening to that music when I was younger. It was what my grandparents listened to. It was old, except that it’s really not, especially as younger and younger artists record some of this amazing music. Even Beyoncé got in the act at President Obama’s first inauguration when she sang the great Etta James’ classic At Last. At least I think she sang it (a little lip sync reference, more for fun than anything. The chick can definitely sing.)

My mother developed a love of antiques when she was in her 40s. I don’t remember her paying much attention to old things before that but that could be because I was only paying attention to myself. She started going to antique shops, collecting her 19th century dollhouses and Santa Claus’ and even the occasional piece of furniture. I didn’t get it. I went with her a number of times and the furniture just looked old to me and worse, it smelled old, as did the shop. Kind of musty, like it had been locked away in somebody’s attic for centuries and in some cases, it had been. I always wondered why anyone would want something old when they could get something new and modern.

Then I got older and suddenly I was looking at old stuff with new eyes. Kevin and I collect some antique toys, mostly old Tonka, Smith-Miller and Wyandotte trucks. We have quite the menagerie around the house. Then I started looking at some pieces of furniture. We would go to the swap meets in Ventura or Pasadena, at the Rose Bowl, and while much of what they offer is sweat socks and Mexican blankets, they have the occasional booth that’s loaded with incredible old stuff. We bought a big Zenith radio, one of the wood-enclosed pieces that sits on the floor. It was from World War II and still has all of its parts inside. We haven’t fixed it yet, but I suspect it works.

We also found a music cabinet that was different than anything else I’d ever seen. Most antique music cabinets have spindle legs and a door that opens to the right. This one had claw feet, and two doors that swiveled out from the center. It was very cool. But the guy wanted a lot of money for it and it needed a lot of work. So I found one on ebay that was pristine and had it shipped here from New York. It remains one of my favorite pieces of furniture.

We also have a 1948 Roadmaster bicycle, again a swap meet find, that hovers above the entrance way of the house, perched on the bridge that holds the heat and air conditioning vents.

I have antique china, Limoges from the late 1800s, and other pieces of glassware. The lamp that hangs over our kitchen table is a Persian piece, probably from the turn of the 19th century. It’s stunning. We have an old smoking table in the living room.

Today, we stopped at an antique mall in Agoura on our way home. Kevin wanted to find some glass bottles that he could use for our wine making endeavor. We haven’t been to these stores in years and many have changed. Some are extraordinary, offering all manner of old from clothing and jewelry to record albums and toys to furniture and lamps to old typewriters and music boxes. We saw a lamp that we loved from Italy, and an old wine display from a company called Roma Wines. The sign said they were the biggest wine producer in the world. Who knew?

We saw Corona typewriters from the early 1900s, small and in pristine condition. They had tags that said they were collapsible for travel. I remarked that they were the original laptops. We moved on.

We saw an incredible piano that looked to be an old electric keyboard. All wood, with a small keyboard, and equally small switches above the ivories that were labeled bass, drums, guitar. I couldn’t find a price; I suspect it was very expensive.

We saw old French bottle driers, used in wineries and cafes to hang bottles upside down after washing. There were old wine openers and the meat grinders that attach to tables. Both Kevin and I talked about watching our fathers hook those things to the kitchen table and put in big pieces of ham, pickles, onions, and grind it into something they eventually called ham salad. Kevin said he used to love to watch the process but it always made him a little sick to his stomach to see the end result, and especially to know that it was probably going to be in his lunch the next day.

We found an old urn from Italy that held an equally old wine bottle. We found steel lanterns that were slightly discolored and rusted and we both said that they would look great on either side of our new front door in Tucson.

We rambled through each store. There were at least six if not more. With the exception of one, they all smelled really good. Evidently, antique stores know enough to have essential oils dispensing pleasing and meditative fragrances throughout. I have to say it made everything seem a little less old. Especially when I saw an entire booth with new candles, including my favorite, Aquiesse.

Everything old may still be old, but the stores are displaying their wares in a new way, complete with sensual smells and great music. Very modern, and a wonderful way to celebrate longevity, timelessness, truth and beauty. We were living it out loud today in those stores, and having a simply marvelous time thinking of new lives for old things. 

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The grind

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 1, 2013 6:54 PM

My husband was grinding coffee this morning and the smell of it filled the house. I’m not sure there is a more welcome and rich fragrance in the early part of the day unless maybe it’s fresh ground coffee and cinnamon coffee cake mixed with the smell of a soft, dusty rain as it dampens the dry earth. I was in bed. It was only 10 minutes to 7. Cooper had already been out and had positioned himself next to me on the bed. It’s his new habit and while it’s endearing, it does leave a healthy amount of red fur on the comforter. I’m going through lint rollers like I own stock.

Maguire used to get on the bed, too, when he was young. He was at least 30 pounds bigger than Cooper, and when he stretched out on his side, he was nearly as big as a person. He didn’t tend to stay on the bed long; he got too hot too quickly especially if there was another person also on the bed. Many a day we’d come home to find that he had camped out on Kevin’s side, probably in the afternoon sun as it streamed through the blinds. He’d meet us at the door, innocent as could be, but the Maguire-size indentation and the fur on the comforter were tell-tale signs. I started buying bed-in-a-bag because to put an expensive comforter on the bed seemed shortsighted and a horrible waste of money. I’ll be buying bed-in-a-bag again now that Cooper has also discovered the joy of a California King pillow-top.

He didn’t seem to react to the smell of the coffee but he did stretch and sigh and make his usual guttural sounds. I stretched, too, and stuck one foot out from under the covers. I was cold last night, as always, and so I was snug under the covers, but the minute I woke up, I started to warm up. I find the best way to cool off, short of getting out of bed, is to simply snake one foot out into the cool air. I lay there, with most of me still under the covers and one foot out, eyes half closed which means they were open enough to see Cooper, and with my nose crinkling with the delicious acridity of Columbian and Espresso beans whirring themselves into powder at my husband’s hand.

When I was a kid, my grandfather worked at an A & P in Pittsburgh. It was one of the big grocery store chains in the northeast at the time, and even after we moved from Pennsylvania to New York we would often shop at the local A & P. It was what we knew, and we were comfortable with it. Creatures of habit. Of course, I was too young to actually shop, but I was also too young to be left home alone so I’d often accompany my mother, along with my brother and sister to the grocery store.

In the front of the store, near the coffee aisle, there was a big red grinder. It was always covered with fresh ground coffee dust and errant beans littered the floor. After buying a bag of A & P beans, people would pour the bag into the top of the grinder, close the lid, reposition the bag below, choose the texture and then hit the button. The machine would whir to life and the beans would crunch and grind into some form of coffee powder that would deposit itself into the waiting bag at the spout at the bottom. The bag could then be resealed, and off you’d go, home to brew several fresh pots.

I don’t remember if my mother ground her own coffee; I only remember the smell in the grocery store. In fact, I think my mother probably bought a can of already ground coffee. I didn’t drink coffee at that age. I started in high school when I worked in a pharmacy in Milford and on early Saturdays and Sundays the owner would buy everyone who was working a fresh cup of coffee from the River Diner. It always smelled good, too.

I started drinking coffee because of the smell. I think that’s one of the reasons I still drink it.

There is something comforting about the fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans as they waft through the house. It reminds me of my childhood, of being with my mom at the local A & P. I guess ultimately it reminds me of home. I wonder if that’s why coffee houses are so popular.

At our home there is often fresh coffee from freshly ground beans. Lying in bed, I knew there would be some this morning, as fresh as could be, plus it was Friday. As I lay there with Cooper, with one eye open and my foot sticking out into the cool, the clock rolled to 7 AM. I could hear the coffee maker gurgling and roiling, and I knew it had the makings of a good day to be home.

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Evidently 350AD was a good vintage

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 26, 2013 10:25 PM

I am a wino. There. I said it. I’m not at all ashamed; in fact, I’m proud. Wine to me is art and magic and creativity and wonder, all swirling in a glass. I’m partial to red, will drink the occasional white and rarely even sip a rosé to taste. However, rosés aren’t what they used to be which was White Zinfandel or worse. Sickeningly sweet to the point of gagging is how I found most of them. Lately, there have been some interesting experiments with rosés, including a rosé Malbec that we tried last week. It was dry and smooth. Not wonderful enough to entice us to buy a bottle but nice enough for a taste. I still prefer that my wine have all of its color.

Which leads me to the subject of today’s post. Evidently there is a wine at the Pfalz Historical Museum in Germany that was discovered in 1867, buried with a Roman noble near the city of Speyer. It is dated to the year 350AD. It sort of looks red though I can’t be sure. Those in the know say it is white. Who knows how old the bottle is but the wine is over 1650 years old. It was sealed with wax and contains wine-type liquid. Some in Germany are debating whether or not to open it; the museum’s wine department has said that they’re not sure the liquid could stand the shock of fresh air. A wine professor named Monika Christmann has indicated that “micro-biologically it is probably not spoiled.” But she doesn’t think it would bring much joy to the palate.

Perhaps the splash of olive oil included has helped to keep it from turning to vinegar. After all, oil and vinegar don’t mix.

I wonder what would happen if actual wine was found in the world’s oldest winery believed to be more than 6,100 years ago. Discovered in the caves of Armenia, by archeologists from the University of California, jars and drinking cups carved from animal horns were found. They believe that the Copper Age vintners stomped grapes with their feet, just like Lucy did in I Love Lucy goes to Italy. The Ancient Armenians fermented the juice in huge clay vats, all of which was found along with fossilized grape seeds and skins. Interestingly, there is a site nearby that is believed to be a place of burial suggesting that early wine making might have been part of the funeral proceedings, perhaps dedicated to the dead, or maybe inspired by the dead.

There were also bodies discovered in the Armenian wine-making cave, eight to be exact, including a child. The thought is that mourners may have sipped wine to perhaps honor the dead, or maybe to appease the spirits. Wine may have even been used to sprinkle on the graves, but that seems like a horrible waste of good grape juice.

When I come across stories like this I am forever amazed that the more things change the more they remain the same. Sixty one hundred years ago, ancient peoples were making and drinking wine. At the beginning of the calendar, in 350AD, people were making and drinking wine. In our garage right now we are making wine that we will one day be drinking.

Maybe that means that one day, in the far off future, archeologists will be excavating the earthquake-created faults where there was once Southern California. They’ll find small barrels of French and American oak, or at least the remnants of, and glass carboys. They may find a bottle but probably not, and they’ll discover a label, old, tattered, buried in the rubble of what used to be Oak Park. After painstakingly restoring it, they’ll find that it say Michel Cellars and they’ll know that once, long ago, when there was a California, there were people who made wine in this small suburb.

Meanwhile, in their ocean front property in Tucson, Arizona, nestled up against the cliffs of the Catalina Foothills, the descendants of the Michels will raise a glass and toast to a very good vintage. 

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You look like garbage. This is a good thing.

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 25, 2013 8:47 PM

Excuse me, miss, but where did you get that outfit? Because it looks like it could have come out of that trash pile over there. The fact of the matter is, it could have and I am intrigued. It seems that Levi Strauss, the incredible denim-making factory extraordinaire that has been crafting the most popular and longest-lasting jeans since 1873, is currently talking trash. I have long been a fan of Levi’s. I started wearing them in high school. I experimented with different types: boot cut, straight leg, relaxed fit. Some with zippers, some – like my all time favorites – with a button fly. I still have a pair that I bought in the mid- to late- 1980s. Sometimes they still fit. I keep them because I remain ever the optimist.

In the past, Levi’s made their denim jeans the old-fashioned way, by weaving cotton and hand cutting the fabric. In fact, denim is a rugged cotton twill textile, where the weft passes under two or more warp threads. This produces the familiar diagonal ribbing identifiable on the reverse of the fabric, which distinguishes denim from cotton duck. According to the Denimoholic blog, denim has been in American usage since the late eighteenth century (see above: Levi Strauss). The word “denim” comes from the name of a sturdy fabric called serge, originally made in Nîmes, France, by the Andre family. Called serge de Nîmes, the name was soon shortened to denim. Denim was traditionally colored blue with indigo dye to make blue "jeans," though "jean" originally denoted a different, lighter cotton textile. The contemporary use of the word jean comes from the French word for Genoa, Italy (Gênes), where the first denim pants were made.

Levi’s makes most of its jeans out of the country. Levi Strauss came to this country from Buttenheim, Bavaria in 1853. Together with a tailor named Jacob Davis, they received their first patent in 1873 to make the first riveted men’s work pants made out of denim. The first blue jeans. Now they’re making history again with something they’re calling Waste<Less. They’re making jeans out of garbage, essentially using crushed brown and green plastic bottles. Eight of each are blended into each pair and each pair is at least 20 percent recycled plastic.

It’s not the first time. Levi’s started measuring the environmental impact of its 501 jeans in 2007. They found that 49 percent of the water use during the lifetime of a pair of 501 jeans occurred at the very beginning, with the cotton farmers. Another 45 percent of water use was by consumers when they washed their jeans, typically about 100 times before the jeans were recycled or thrown out. The company then joined the Better Cotton Initiative to teach farmers how to grow cotton with less water in countries like Pakistan, India, Brazil and Mali. The first of the cotton was harvested in 2011 and Levi’s started blending its share into its jeans. Each pair has about 5 percent of the low-water cotton. Their goal is to be using 20 percent by 2015.

In 2010, Levi’s started encouraging people to wash their jeans less often, to use cold water only, and to line or air-dry. They even put it on the care tag. It started recommending that people give their old jeans to charity organizations instead of throwing them away. They also introduced Water<Less jeans in 2011. As of the end of last year, they had saved 360 million liters of water.

Enter Waste<Less.

Evidently when plastic bottles are recycled, they’re sorted by color, then cleaned and sold as polyester flakes that can be stretched into fiber that can be spun into thread and woven into cotton. Levi’s chose the beer-bottle brown and soda-pop green plastic bottles because they create a different sheen on the denim. It shows mostly on the inside of the jeans, though it appears more the more the jeans are worn. Made in North Carolina, the first jeans to be produced used about 3.5 million bottles. Sounds huge. But in 2011, people in this country consumed about 33 billion bottles of soda, only 29 percent of which were recycled.

Waste<Less when combined with the low-water cotton and the reduced reliance on water will make looking like garbage a good thing, especially if they’re button fly 501s. Maybe I can even replace my old 1980s pair.


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