Sometimes I wonder

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 4, 2017 10:24 PM

My Aunt Beryl died in late spring/early summer of 2013. I miss her. She was, to use an over-used word, a character. Self-sufficient, well-informed, well-traveled, she had lived alone for decades having lost everyone close to her including her husband, her sister, even her beloved dog, Pepper. She rattled around in a four-story house above the river in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in sight of the shuttered steel mills where she worked for years before retiring. The house had been purchased for her mother, and for a while, the family lived there. My mother spent the first few years of her life in that brick house. My mother’s father, a turret gunner, was killed on his first mission in World War II. 

Aunt Beryl married later in life, becoming a wife to a man who was much older and already had children from a previous marriage. She never had children of her own but instead doted on my mother, her niece, and on her dog. She was cantankerous and socially awkward, and always engaged. She absorbed everything and had working knowledge of most things, especially when it came to popular culture and politics. 

I don’t know when she and I started talking on a fairly regular basis. There were times I saw her number come up on my caller ID and I let the call go to voice mail, mostly because I knew that if I answered, I’d be on the phone for several hours as we discussed everything from the current occupant of the white house to what she heard on one of her radio programs to the status of her beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Before the election of 2000, she and I had a number of discussions about George W. Bush. I didn’t like him; I didn’t trust his eyes. I thought he was a weasel. She liked him, and I didn’t push my opinion. At that point, she was in her early 80s and I thought she’d earned the right to hers. Plus, I just didn’t have the strength to argue about how awful I thought Bush would be for the country. It wouldn’t have mattered; I couldn’t possibly have changed her mind. Several years later, after the Iraq war debacle and torture and countless other atrocities, she and I were having a discussion on a Sunday. 

“You were right about that Bush,” she said in her gruff tone. “He is a weasel.”

I couldn’t convince her but I give her all the credit in the world. She listened, she read, she was open to changing her mind when presented with factual information. 

She knew about the singer Pink and really liked that “John Jovi,” otherwise known as Jon Bon Jovi.

An avowed movie buff, she had no use for bad language, sex and violence. She preferred her old movies, especially anything with Clark Gable. She and I shared a love of Gone with the Wind. But she did love “that Russell Crowe.” 

In her house, the radio was always on and if it wasn’t, the TV was. She read the newspaper and numerous news magazines. She consumed the news and knew a little about a lot and a lot about a little. 

She didn’t love President Obama, mostly because he was a democrat but a little bit because he was black. There was an undercurrent of racism that ran through Pittsburgh and McKeesport in the way back, and it stayed with her. We almost had an argument once about black football players and how, to her, they only played football so that they could have the money. The white players played because they loved the game. 

Aunt Beryl died while Obama was still in office, and I know she liked and appreciated some of what he did, like getting Bin Laden. She didn’t like Michelle because she didn’t see the First Lady as worthy. She knew I was a huge fan of both Obamas and she respected that even if she didn’t agree.

I wonder, sometimes, what she’d think about what has happened in the country since Obama. I wonder what she’d think about a reality show second-rate star occupying an office that she revered. I suspect she would have voted for Trump; I also suspect she would now be appalled. Sometimes I wonder what she’d say but I can hear her voice. It’s saying “Oh, my.” I can see her shaking her head.

I wonder sometimes.

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The Saturday of a Labor Day weekend

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 2, 2017 8:25 PM

On Tuesday, March 24, 2015, we finally moved into the house on the hill. Building had commenced on December 1, 2013 and Architect Mike thought maybe we’d be in by Christmas of 2014. We never really thought that was possible, but we hoped. December 2014 moved into January 2015. Mike said maybe the end of the month. January became February and Mike said the end of February. Then it was March, and we told him we had to move in. We had people coming to stay with us on March 24; we were throwing a party on Saturday, March 28. The truck rumbled up the hill early afternoon and the guys proceeded to unload it with me standing in the middle of the house directly traffic.

Roy and Bobbi got to the house around 11 pm. I had managed to get the bed set up and made in the guest room; put towels and a bar of soap in the guest bath. Ditto our own room. The kitchen was relatively put together because I’d been moving a lot of that in for days, taking Rover loads to the new house and arranging what I could. The rest of the house was a sea of boxes.

Over the next few days, I unpacked what I could but mostly stacked the boxes so that they at least looked neater. We put the couches, the floor lamps, the coffee table in place in the great room. We arranged the dining room table and chairs, and the hutch. We put together the new bar stools, and when the patio furniture arrived, we put that together. Because we were going to have a house full of people.

Kevin’s office stayed mostly a mess but mine had to be more put together because we had more people coming to stay on Thursday. I pushed the desk up against the wall, and we put together the spare bed we keep in the storage area. It’s a full size. I found more towels and another bar of soap. 

All of my boxes of books got stacked in the closet and there they stayed for the next two and a half years. The office itself has been highly functional though lacking some personality. The two bookshelves I had against the wall stayed there but mostly empty other than the errant stuff I stacked. The shelves stayed shrink wrapped in the hall closet. 

Several months ago, I started thinking that I might like to re-arrange my office. I had the desk at an angle but I didn’t like it. The empty book shelves were on the west wall, but I didn’t like those either. There was a lot of mess and no feng shui. I’m not necessarily a practitioner of feng shui, but I do know when a room feels right, and mine was just feeling off. But work is busy and I’ve had school, and my weekends come and go and nothing happened in my office. The top of the desk became a sea of papers that I needed to go through but didn’t. Dust gathered. 

For years, the day after Thanksgiving was my designated day to clean my office. I actually looked forward to it every year. But for the past four or five years, we’ve been going to Paso Robles for Thanksgiving, which means on that Friday, I’m happily ensconced in a winery or four, tasting wine and enjoying life while my office languishes.

This is another long weekend, and earlier this week I decided that I was going to use some of the time to clean my office and re-arrange the furniture. I started late yesterday afternoon, going through the mountains of papers on my desk and throwing out most of them. Then I decided to move the desk to in front of the window, the shelves to the east wall, and put my black chair and ottoman on the west wall. The corner shelf that had previously held a number of products from clients that I’m no longer working with got completely cleaned off. I put photos, and my 1920s typewriter, on that. I hung my cowboy hat from the corner. 

Then I ran out of time. But this afternoon, I ventured back in and started pulling boxes of books out of the closet. I opened each and decided which I wanted on the book shelves in the office, which I wanted on the shelves in the closet, and which I really didn’t need at all and could go to Goodwill or the library. I worked for hours, emptying countless boxes, and ended up with four boxes to donate. I pulled the shelves from the hall closet, dusted them off and put them in place. I arranged books. I dusted. And when it was all done, I stood back to admire my work. And it was good. 

On this Labor Day weekend, I labored to finally clean and re-arrange my office. It’s something to celebrate.

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The shadow cast

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 31, 2017 8:51 PM

I’ve written before about the creatures we encounter in the desert. Most of them are on the ground, but we do have plentiful birds and flying bugs. One buzzed by me this morning and I noticed that it cast a shadow. You know something is big when it casts a shadow. I don’t know what type of bug it was and I honestly don’t care. I’m not a big fan of bugs on the ground; less so of ones in the air.

It made me think though. Shadows are fascinating changes in the light. While they seem to block the light entirely, in effect they really only hide it, temporarily, and even then only some of it. If there’s enough light to cast a shadow, there is enough light to dance in the shadow. Every day, I look at the shadows cast by the towering saguaros in our driveway and watch them drift from west to east as the sun moves from east to west. This isn’t exactly news to anyone and I don’t mean it to be. It’s more of an observation. In those shadows and in others, there is still light. It’s just taking a break. 

I watch sports and am amazed when the baseball hit to deep left field or the deep pass thrown toward a sprinting receiver disappears in the interplay of shadow and light within a stadium. It’s there one minute; the next it’s hiding in plain sight only to drop out of the sky, often into a waiting glove or the capable hands of the receiver. I wonder how the players keep their eye on ball, how they find it in the interplay of light and darkness.

I marvel at the moving shadows cast by the ravens and falcons, the occasional hawk and the even more occasional osprey as they float across the desert, sometimes so close I can see their eyes, count the feathers in their wings. Depending on where the sun is, the shadow they cast can seem like a mini-eclipse. Even airplanes, high in the sky, when moving past the sun in just the right way, can shadow the earth below. It’s eerie and wondrous, dare I say illuminating. 

A person can stand and cast a shadow. A house casts a shadow; ditto a car. A dog casts a shadow; a cat, too. Deer, javelina, tortoises cast shadows here in the desert. Saguaros, ocotillos, prickly pear; mesquite and palo verde, even palm trees. And bugs.

The particular bug this morning was black and winged. Might have been a beetle, definitely wasn’t a grasshopper. As we trudged down the hill, it was coming up, flying against gravity. It buzzed up and around, a tiny Cessna, a single passenger bug-plane, and as it neared, it’s shadow buzzed along with it, beneath it, on the pavement, not quite keeping up but close. 

Then it buzzed by, taking its shadow with it, and I was left with a sense of awe as I so often am in the desert especially in the early morning when the sun has just started to warm the day and the shadows cast to the west are long.  Awe at the nature of it all.

I don’t know why this struck me today. There are shadows every day; sometimes there are shadows at night, if there’s a full moon. But I couldn’t help but notice, and think that if something casts a shadow, that means there is light behind.

There is a shadow cast across the country now, too. But somewhere there is also still light above. I’m not at all religious, but that light? It gives me hope.

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I made the bed

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 26, 2017 7:58 PM

I made the bed this morning. This is something I do every morning without fail. I get up, pull on some clothes and pull up the sheets and the comforter. I walk into the bathroom and begin the three-trip task of retrieving the additional pillows: shams the same color as the comforter, European shams in taupe, and three throw pillows. A made bed feels neater to me, makes me feel as if the day has officially begun. I blame my mother, and a touch of OCD. My mother was a stickler for a made bed. As kids, they had to be made before we went to school in the morning. I may have rebelled a bit in college but I don’t think so. It became habit, one that stuck with me and my brother. My sister is not as much a stickler. Sometimes I envy that. 

Perhaps it’s also a control thing. After the Northridge earthquake in January, 1994, the first thing I did was make my bed. I learned later that I wasn’t the only one. The quake struck at 4:30 in the morning, the darkest part of night. It shook the city, and each individual home; seemed to shake the world. I stood in the doorjamb between my bedroom and bath on the second floor, gripping the sides and listening to the roar and the crash, the violence of breaking glass. When it was over, I looked at the clock and as if to reassure myself, said out loud that “it couldn’t have been that bad. We still have power.” The numbers on my clock were glowing red in the darkness. Then there was a loud pop as transformers blew in unison and everything went black. I knew my house was in shambles; I knew that what awaited me downstairs was a sea of glass and the contents of bottles splashed and strewn across the floor. But it was dark. I couldn’t see to clean that up. The only thing I could do to seem like I was OK, like I was making progress, like I was still in control of my life was to make the bed. 

One of the other things I learned from my mother was to always make the bed first when moving into a new place. That way, after spending a day moving and then unpacking, when it comes time for bed, when you’ve reached peak exhaustion, the bed is ready and waiting. It seems logical – I suppose many others do it as well. But it has stuck with me and I tried to impress that upon Justin, too. 

Yesterday, Shawn moved into her dorm at the University of New Hampshire. My sister posted photos on Facebook of Shawn sitting on her made bed. I don’t know if she’s a bed maker. She’s a college student and a teen so she’s probably not especially neat; most people aren’t in college. She probably will wash her sheets only when they get gritty and smelly, maybe once a month if the sheets are lucky. But for yesterday and for last night she had a clean bed with crisp sheets made up nice and neat.

Making the bed makes sense of a nonsensical world. In these nonsensical times, it helps me to believe that I can maintain a little control, a little bit of say, the smallest bit of honor and order in a country that daily careens toward oblivion and irrelevance. I wrote the other day, asking how much longer this can go on. I fear the answer. I fear that the divide being created, indeed nurtured and coddled from the oval office – the oval office – is one that will not soon go away, will be hard to tame and soothe. We are spiraling and there is a part of the country that thinks that’s good and that terrifies me. There are people who cheer the pardoning of a convicted law enforcement officer, who believe that people of different color, religion, sexual orientation, and sexual identity are to be feared. Worse, ostracized, demonized. There are those who believe that they and they alone are right and just and those who think differently be damned, and in the toddler they have found a champion. I fear for who we are fast becoming.

And so today I made the bed. I pulled the comforter taut and smoothed the wrinkles. I arranged the pillows and as I often do, I stopped to look at how pretty it looked against the newly painted wall behind. For just a few minutes, I controlled destiny.

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How much longer

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 23, 2017 7:35 PM

Are we there yet? It’s an age-old question, asked by many a child on a long road trip, tucked into the back seat, staring out the window as blurred scenery rushes by. Are we there yet? I have to go to the bathroom. How much longer?

I don’t know if children actually ask this question or if it’s one of those old-wives tales that has been passed down through the generations. I ask it now, sometimes, when Kevin and I are in the car on an especially long road trip. Are we there yet? How much longer? I do it for fun and it’s often followed up by the other old standby from years ago: Don’t make me stop this car. 

When we were kids, we never flew anywhere. That was a luxury normal people like us, middle class but nothing more, could never hope to afford. It never occurred to my parents that a family vacation would involve buying five round-trip airfare tickets to somewhere. Instead, we always climbed into my dad’s company car, always a boat of a vehicle, and off we went. Often it was to Maine, to a little place we found on the water in Prout’s Neck called the Braden Cottage. It was an odd house, upside down in a way, with all of the bedrooms and one large bathroom on the ground floor and the living room/kitchen above. I suppose it was like that because the view of the water was better from up there. We always went in June, because it wasn’t yet high season. We always drove.

When I was nine, making my brother five and my sister three, we took a big road trip south, to Florida. The destination was Disneyworld. This was long before there was Epcot Center. It was probably 1971. It took us at least two days and probably three to drive all the way down the east coast to Orlando. I remember my mother, who was always prepared, having created daily packets of stuff for each of us to do while safely ensconced in the backseat. Crayons and coloring books, small games, and other assorted distractions. Anything so as not to hear three kids continually whining: How much longer. 

This morning I read the news. As usual it was filled with chaos and strife, gnashing of teeth and shaking of heads. There was no immediate crisis, just the rolling continuation of this abhorrent presidency. The toddler came to Arizona yesterday, dropping down into the valley of the sun – a balmy 107º – to bring his particular brand of hate and crazy into a state known, mostly in the suburbs and rural areas, for both. Phoenix, like Tucson, indeed like most cities in the country, is a bastion of blue, a melting pot of people and cultures and ideas. I think it’s one of the reasons people congregate in cities. They share a love of differences, and enjoy celebrating that. 

Not our president. I shudder that I even have to type those words because he is so obviously and completely unfit and unwilling to actually do the job to which he is assigned. He celebrates only one thing: himself. He has a pretty high opinion of himself. He’s in the minority. He’s a petty, vile, ugly little man. 

As I read about what he had to say – I didn’t watch the rally (definitely not a speech) and refuse to ever watch him if for no other reason than to keep my blood pressure low – as I read about how he lied about what he has actually said recently, about how unfairly he’s covered when what he actually says is broadcast; when I listened to him rail about trade agreements and race and crowd size and pardoning a despicable man of law enforcement who broke the law repeatedly; as I looked at his bloated, orange buffoonery, his stupid little hands, the thumb and forefinger perpetually pressed together, all I could think of was how much longer. How much longer can this go on? How much longer can we stand it? How much longer before something horrible happens? How much longer before he does lasting damage to us, and the world? How much longer?

Are we there yet?

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I can’t today. I have to go shopping for my Bitmoji.

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 20, 2017 8:40 PM

Evidently, bitmoji was all the craze a number of years ago. I was a little late jumping onto the wagon, but ever since I was introduced, I have been a fan. I love using these rather ridiculous and not-very-close-likeness mojis of, well, me to communicate. I can tell someone happy birthday, happy weekend or wine time. There are any number of emotions to send, some joyous, some angry, some just fun. I can be a Game of Thrones character or my own version of the Terminator, Scully from the X-Files, or batman, superman or a (wo)man in black.

For the uninitiated, a bitmoji is basically your own personal emoji. Rather than use one of the regular emojis that comes with your phone, you can download the app and create an “expressive cartoon avatar.” Because what I always wanted to be was an avatar. You can choose your sex, hair color, your facial shape, skin tone, whether you wear glasses or makeup. Bobbi first introduced it to me and I’ve been hooked virtually ever since. My friend Shana, here in Tucson, also has a bitmoji. We’ve had many conversations with just bitmojis and their accompanying phrases.

Along with creating a bitmoji that fits you, you also get to choose how you’d like your avatar to be dressed. In the winter, you can wear long pants and a sweater, or a snow suit; in the summer, shorts. You can change into a bathing suit, should you desire, or something more formal. 

Today I fired off a bitmoji to Justin after he’d said that he was tired after a long day of furniture assembly. He’s in Atlanta now, actually Smyrna, in his new apartment, a ground-floor apartment in a house in the ‘burbs. He loves it and has been decorating for days now, shopping at IKEA and Target and Walmart, getting pieces of furniture that have to be put together, usually with an allen wrench or hex key. 

I was looking at my Too Tired avatar, which doesn’t look nearly as tired as I actually do, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t a fan of the outfit, so quite innocently, I announced that I had to find something new for my bitmoji to wear. This sent my husband into fits of laughter. 

“You’re going shopping … for your bitmoji?” he asked playfully. I started to laugh, too. 

“I’m sorry,” he continued. “I can’t play with you today. I have to go out and see what I can find for my not-real, one dimensional, virtual self to wear.” 

“You’re mocking me,” I said. He nodded, grinning.

But I went shopping anyway, which consists of opening the app and looking at the different outfits that are available. I went from a tank top, skirt and flip flops to a more safari look, and sandals with heels. 

It’ll do for at least a couple of weeks. By then, the temps might adjust, and I’ll have to dig into the fall wardrobe. Jeans and boots. Hey, my avatar is a fashion plate, even if I’m … not.

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Ding dong

by Lorin Michel Friday, August 18, 2017 8:16 PM

Last week, a friend of mine who lives in Canada posted one of those questions on Facebook that’s just fun: What was the scariest movie from your childhood? She asked that we post a gif, rather than just type the title. The scariest movie I saw as a kid was not, as people who know me might believe, The Sound of Music. I hated that movie but it wasn’t really scary – not even the part in the abbey at the end with the Nazis. My memory went immediately to The Wizard of Oz but not for the reasons people might suspect. It didn’t have anything to do with the flying monkeys. For most people, even those who loved the movie and cherish the memory, which I didn’t and don’t, the scene with the flying monkeys terrorizing Dorothy et al was terrifying. Ditto when they were marching dutifully, chanting that dull allegiance to the Witch.

What terrified me when I was little and on the couch with my dad, watching the movie, was Elmira Gulch, the nasty neighbor in her drab puritanical dress and hat with a black ribbon flower bow who came and took Toto. Other than the obvious fact that she was taking Dorothy’s dog to do dog-knows what with and undoubtedly destroy it, I actually think what scared me was the ominous music. Duh da da da daaa duh Duh da da da daaa duh. I always buried my face in my dad’s chest.

So I posted a gif of that wretched woman on her bicycle.

I thought of this today which was just another day that tiptoed up to Armageddon and knocked quietly. We haven’t yet gotten to the point where we’re pounding on it, but I fear we’re only a tweet away. Every day brings new angst and turmoil, disgust and anger, and fear. This time, this administration, is the scariest movie I’ve seen as an adult. It’s horrifying and yet I find it impossible to look away mostly because I’m afraid I might miss something. And given the rapid fire rate at which things happen, I might. We all might. Every single day brings a new calamity, at least for those of us who live in reality and who don’t think CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC, etc are fake news. I consume all, daily and constantly. This administration, if it can even be called that, terrifies me. It’s as if they are constantly taking my dog, putting him in a basket and pedaling off in sepia tones into a tornado.

Case in point: today’s firing of Steve Bannon. Or quitting of Steve Bannon. Whatever it is, he’s gone. That evil, travesty of a human dispensed with another evil, travesty of a human, the latter of which crawled back into his alt-right cave while the former slinked off to Camp David, or New Jersey, or wherever toads go.

Many in those media forms that I frequent were talking about yet another re-set. The pundits on television were saying that this represented a break for the good; that this impossible presidency could finally get back on track. As if Steve Bannon was the sole reason for Trump being Trump. As much as Steve Bannon is a prick; as much as I completely disagree with him on everything, he didn’t make the toddler who he is. Trump was a bowl full of slime long before Bannon added some red pepper flakes. Once slime, always slime.

I shook my head. In scary movies, the villain never dies the first time. Hell, the villain never even dies the fifth time. It takes fire, and molten lava, and stakes through the heart to kill the bad guy. I’ve seen my share of scary movies. I know. This is why there are always sequels. 

All of which brings me back, in a round-about way, to The Wizard of Oz. In that movie, Oz is actually a small grayed haired man operating behind a curtain. In our movie, Oz is an orange buffoon and a sleazebag of a man in a human skin suit. They are inseparable and indistinguishable. The latter may have been vanquished but is he really gone? 

In The Wizard of Oz, the witch dies in technicolor, Dorothy clicks her ruby red heels together and suddenly we’re back in Kansas, in black and white. Everyone is there, including Toto. But we never hear what happened to Elmira Gulch. Because you just know she came back and continued to wreak havoc.

Ding dong indeed.

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Puppy Supremacy

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 15, 2017 8:48 PM

There has been a lot of well-deserved outrage, wringing of hands, and anger the last few days. To that, I would also add disbelief and total disgust. How is it that, in 2017, we are seeing Nazi flags flying in Virginia, men and women marching with tiki torches – their version of the long sticks, with grass or rags wrapped in gasoline – white sheets, pointed hats. In 2017. I don’t like Jimmy Fallon but his response last night was spot on. I love Seth Meyers and his response was equally good. What the hell is going on? Neo-Nazis, alt-right fascists (is that redundant?), anti-Semites, white supremacists. All these poor snowflakes who whine and cry and bitch and moan about how they need to take their country back. Literally, evidently. Back to the late 1700s/early 1800s, when white men ruled and everyone else was lesser, including women and especially anyone who wasn’t white. Their idea of how America should be is abhorrent to most, though not, apparently, the Orange Julius in the White House.

There is nothing to celebrate about the last few days. Perhaps the only decent thing is that decent people still exist. Counter-protestors, students who have made it their mission to topple statues glorifying the Confederacy, TV show hosts, countless commentators, both left and right, and even Republicans all seem to be appalled.

Imagine the greatest generation, those who fought WWII, who fought the Nazis, who liberated the concentration camps. Imagine their disgust that the country they were proud to represent in the goal to remove this filth from the world is now entrenched in it. 

Not that we haven’t always had those who think others are inferior simply due to skin color, religion, or sex. We destroyed Native Americans; we had slaves. But we also fought a Civil War to rid the country of the latter. And yet, here we are in 2017 with white supremacy being the main topic of conversation on many websites and cable news. 

I am a liberal Democrat so I freely admit to not really understanding why I must hate someone because of race. Aren’t we all part of the human race? I know it sounds trite but sometimes trite can be profound. We are all the same on the inside. Skin color is just window dressing; it’s clothing. There are plenty of people I hate but I reserve that hatred for acts of idiocy and assholishness. 

Many years ago, I remember being in the kitchen in Oak Park, cooking. We had a small TV tucked under the upper cabinets. I was flipping through channels in an attempt to find something to keep me company as I cooked. I stopped on a show on the History Channel, or NatGeo, or maybe it was A & E or Bravo. It was about white supremacy and the man who was being interviewed was discussing how, if we weren’t careful, whites would be in the minority in the not-too-distant future. I watched with morbid fascination, and curiosity. All I could think of was: “So?” 

As I listened and watched today, the fourth day that this crap has driven the news; as I watched my dog and listened to him stretch and sigh, I came to this conclusion: I do care about making one “race” superior and that is caninity, canine maximus, dogilicious, puptometry, the PPP (Playful Pernicious Puppies). Puppy Supremacy. This belief system is simple: puppies (and dogs) are superior to those of all other races, especially the human race because of their joie de vivre. 

Floppy ears and wagging tails. Kisses and snuggles. Belly rubs and playtime. Maximus adorableness.

I think it’s a movement that could change the country.

Though I doubt it would ever change the toddler in chief.

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Go east young man

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 9, 2017 9:59 PM

In 1851, a writer for the Terre Haute Express, John Babsone Lane Soule, used the phrase “go west, young man, go west.” The phrase is widely attributed to another writer, Horace Greely, who co-opted it, writing in the New York Tribune on July 13, 1865: “go west, young man, and grow up with the country.” Greely freely gave credit to Soule, even showing people the original article. Regardless, the phrase “go west, young man” quickly became a mantra, especially for those returning from the Civil War. Looking for a new start, many were casting their fortunes to the west, moving their families. Greely, an author and editor of Tribune, had used the phrase because he envisioned the farmland of the west being ideal for people willing to work hard for the chance to succeed.

This morning, Justin climbed behind the wheel of his new (used) car. It was packed up with nearly everything he owns, mostly clothing and some electronics, along with some hand-me-downs from us. A set of dishes. Pots and pans. Flatware. He started the car and with a wave and a “love you guys” he drove across the driveway, down the road and … west. I watched the car for as long as I could see it, and then came back inside. The west part of his trip was short-lived. Once he got onto Catalina Highway and got to the second stop sign, he turned south, drove down to Interstate 10 and headed east. Destination: Atlanta.

He’s 26 years old. He’ll be 27 at the beginning of January. He has had two major jobs. His first was working for Norwegian Cruise Line which he got before he got out of college and started about a month and half after graduating. The second he got after Norwegian left him hanging for his next “tour.” The cruise lines all function similarly in that workers are on the boat – on a tour of duty, so to speak – for six months at a time. Then they are forced to take a mandatory six weeks off before they can embark on another tour. Justin was all set to do that, and had agreed to another six months on a ship called the Pride of America which cruises around the Hawaiian islands for six months. Not too hard to take. But they never followed through getting him the necessary paperwork from the Coast Guard and he got tired of waiting so he got a job with Feld Entertainment working on Disney’s Frozen on Ice. Until last month, he’d been with them for almost three years during which time he has traveled the country and much of the world. Last summer, on July 2, he left for Japan, where he was for three months, then they went on to Great Britain where he was for another three months. After that, he was in Portugal, France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, and maybe other countries I can’t remember. In April he was home for a month, and then jetted off to New Zealand and Australia where he was until two weeks ago. 

Now he’s heading east toward a new job, as lighting supervisor for the Atlanta Opera. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, with him first needing to buy a car and then trying to secure an apartment long distance. He and Kevin spent the first couple of days looking at used cars, and most of them were in horrible condition. Evidently a lot of people just don’t take care of their vehicles. But our neighbors had indicated that they might like to sell their third car and I told them to let me know. They did, he drove it and bought it. It’s a 2007 Audi A4 2.0T. It’s in great shape, and best of all, was in his price range. It’s his first car (his previous car was what Kevin and I bought him when he turned 16) and it’s a beauty.

Justin's new wheels, pointed east in the driveway

Now, he’s heading east. Toward a new adventure, a new life. And new opportunities. We’re so proud of him, and can’t wait to see – and experience – all of the success that awaits him. Go east, young man, go east. We love you.

Vines

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 6, 2017 8:42 AM

It’s no secret that Kevin and I are into wine. We have an entire, temperature controlled room in the house devoted to it. Our vacations of choice lately have all been to wine country where we spend days visiting various wineries, tasting and buying more wine for the wine room. It is one of the great passions we share together.

Over a year and a half ago, as one of his Christmas presents, I bought Kevin six Barbera vines. They arrived at the end of March 2016 and he planted them in the small vineyard area he had painstakingly created. In essence, he had built a large planter on the western side of the house. It was about 20 feet or so long, and 8 feet or so wide. The ground on which it’s built slopes down the hill, so to level it and shore it up, he built gabion walls using the plentiful amounts of rock we have on the property. He had a dump truck filled with soil drop its load at the edge. The two of us then shoveled and smoothed and generally readied the area for the big day. The day of planting.

He dug holes near where he’d plant each vine and placed a PVC pipe inside so that he could water from the top and ensure that the vines would receive water from below as well as above. Once the vines arrived, he followed the instructions which consisted of soaking them in water for three days and then placing them in the ground. Let the watering and growing commence. 

Except they didn’t grow. They died. So we ordered more vines which came and we soaked and planted and watered. They, too, died. He was frustrated and a little deflated. His great dream of starting his own vineyard was turning into a nightmare. By the third set of vines, which also died, he was done. It obviously wasn’t going to work. Nothing was going to grow in this climate even in the special soil he had delivered. That soil is now what he thinks was the culprit. It was too rich, too organic. Vines like to work for their nutrients and their water. We didn’t make them work hard enough.

Our little vineyard began to grow weeds from neglect. The vines, long withered and dead, were absconded by deer and rabbits and javelina. All that remains are the PVC pipes and the gabion walls, and Kevin’s disappointment.

Several months ago we were at Mesquite Valley Growers on East Speedway. It’s one of the most prolific nurseries I’ve ever visited, offering virtually any type of plant a person could want. We were there to look at getting some flowering plants for the big pots we have on our deck. We wanted some color, a bit of a subtle flair to offset the desert color of the house. Naturally, we also needed something that could take the intense heat of the summer. We found orange solar flares and bought them. While we were there we also noticed grape vines. I suggested we buy them. If we couldn’t grow them in the desert soil, maybe we could grow them in pots on the deck.

Kevin said no. I was persistent. Eventually he relented. We bought two Cabernet Sauvignon vines and planted them, one each in the large pots off on the deck off of his office. I watered them, I looked after them. And they lost all of their leaves, all of the tiny grape clusters they had sported when we bought them home. He didn’t say it but I know he was thinking: “I told you so.” 

But I wouldn’t give up. I kept tending to them, watering them in the morning, talking nice to them, urging them to grow. And sure enough, one day, I noticed a new leaf starting to spring from the gnarly vine of one. I felt cautiously optimistic. Within a week or so, the other, too, had started to sprout. Within a month, both were green and leafy and fabulous.

So we now have vines that are growing. We don’t expect to have any grapes that we can use for at least two more years. But we’re on our way. The beginning of Michel Vineyards has finally begun. That’s worth celebrating.

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