The celebration of sadness, and joy, in A Charlie Brown Christmas

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 11, 2013 11:30 PM

A Charlie Brown Christmas first premiered on December 9, 1965. Evidently the executives at CBS, where the show first aired, saw a rough cut in November of that year and hated it. It was slow, there was no laugh track, the characters were voiced by real children rather than adult voice actors, and the score was way too jazzy. They were also very concerned that Linus told the story of Christmas from the Gospel of Luke. Too religious. They were sure they had ruined the idea of Charlie Brown forever.

The show premiered on that fateful Thursday, and it was watched by nearly 50% of the people watching television that night, about 15 million homes. It was second in ratings only to Bonanza. That horrible score by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi has since become one of the most popular Christmas recordings ever. Each year when the show airs, on different networks now, it still draws huge audiences. It aired this year on December 2, and will air again on December 19. 7.1 million people watched it on December 2nd. For a broadcast that is 48 years old, that’s impressive.

I am a sucker for A Charlie Brown Christmas and not just because of the music, though the soundtrack remains one of my favorites. I think I like it because it seems to celebrate both sadness and joy, something profound for adults let alone children. Yes, it’s obviously about the commercialization of Christmas, something that has done nothing but increase since the show first aired in 1965. In the first showing, Coca Cola was a prominent sponsor. According to some, it was a Coke advertising executive who first suggested doing a Peanuts Christmas special. Naturally it would have to have something about Coke as a reference. When the show first aired and Snoopy tossed Linus out of the skating rink, Linus landed against a Coca Cola sign. The sponsorship references were later removed. The special now airs free of any reference to any product whatsoever.

Poor Charlie Brown, ever the pessimist, can’t get into the spirit of Christmas and no matter what he does, from looking into his mailbox for Christmas cards to watching Snoopy decorate his doghouse for a contest to directing the school pageant, he’s miserable. He goes to get a Christmas tree and gets the smallest, most pathetic tree on the lot, with about five needles on its five branches. The kids laugh at him, call him a blockhead, and leave him to wonder if he has any idea what Christmas is really all about.

Cue Linus, who recounts the story about the shepherds and God bringing them tidings of great joy. This cheers our intrepid hero who picks up his tree, and goes home to discover that Snoopy’s overly decorated and gaudy doghouse has won first place. He takes an ornament and hangs it on the tree, which promptly tips over. Even more distraught, Charlie Brown walks away dejected. The other Peanuts kids find it, decorate it and suddenly it’s a lovely little tree, full of hope and promise and joy and the spirit of seeing goodness in all things, in all people.

I don’t know if that’s the ultimate message. It always has been to me. There is a sadness that can permeate the season, when we’re missing those we’ve lost, those closest to us and separated by miles and a country. There is also the sadness of expectations, most of which are overblown. Expectations are things we put on ourselves. Sometimes they’re legitimate, but sometimes they’re based on something that never existed to begin with. Normal Rockwell comes to mind. He painted a picture of a big family celebrating Christmas together and it was somehow deemed that everyone must celebrate accordingly or their Christmas was wrong.

Christmas is what we make it. Some choose to celebrate, some do not. Some spend it with family, some with friends. Sometimes the gatherings are big, something they’re small. The point is to celebrate together; to celebrate the goodness and joy.

As for Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, I think it’s a metaphor. Things may look bleak and doomed, but with a few well-placed lights and ornaments, life begins to look brighter. A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates sadness without condemning it, and it welcomes joy without exploiting it. Sadness and joy intermingle like two exquisite flavors of the same dish to create what is ultimately Christmas. That’s why I love this holiday classic. It clearly states the meaning of Christmas between friends and family, sharing, arguing, enjoying. It has nothing to do with the Gospel of Luke and everything to do with us mere mortals, down here on the planet, together, even when apart; together always. 

Oh Christmas tree

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 8, 2013 12:00 AM

Today’s the day we put up our Christmas tree. I’ve been threatening to do it since Thanksgiving, which was just last week. Usually there is at least two weeks between turkey day and when I finally get the tree up and semi decorated. Semi-decorated means that it has lights and usually something at the top. We don’t put an angel at the top. We have a Santa holding a wine glass. It seems appropriate.

My husband can have a tendency to get a little cranky around the holidays. One year, when Justin was still in high school, he was being a particular kind of bear and we were fighting about getting a tree. Until that day, we had always gotten a live tree but as he was wearing his Ebenezer Scrooge outfit, and I was mad, I decided to go buy a nice artificial instead. We’ve used it every year since and I actually like it quite a bit.

We used to hang all kinds of ornaments every year. It was a big deal when Justin was little. Like most kids, decorating the Christmas tree was always something he loved to do, placing all of his ornaments in about the same two-foot area on the front of the tree. After he went to bed, we would carefully redistribute the ornaments in order to have a bit more balance. If he ever noticed, he never said anything. His job was to decorate. After he was done, he never gave it another thought.

One Christmas we waited until Christmas Eve to get a tree and by the time we got to the lot, there were two sizes left: short and Rockefeller Center. We opted for the Rockefeller Center. Somehow we got it tied to the roof of the car, got it home and into the tree stand. We had to move large pieces of furniture to give it enough room as it was probably at least 13 feet tall. We strung lights, we hung ornaments and we went to bed. The next morning, Justin came into our room as he always did on Christmas. It was still dark since it was probably about 5:30. He was excited to see what Santa had left, or so we thought. He went over to Kevin’s side of the bed and whispered: Dad! The tree fell over!

The next hour or so was spent resurrecting our fallen tree. I’m relatively sure they never have that problem at Rockefeller Center in New York. Miraculously, we only had one ornament break. With the tree back in place, Kevin tied string to the top and secured it to the air vent that was up near the top of the vaulted ceiling. When I was recounting the story to my mother later that day, she laughed and said: you got a 13 foot tall Christmas tree and didn’t secure it to anything? Lesson learned. After that, we just got smaller trees.

It was Germany that started the tradition of Christmas trees. It was in the 16th century and devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes to celebrate the birth of Christ, a date that was actually chosen by the Romans centuries earlier. Some Christians built pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreen boughs. Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, was the first to suggest lit candles for a tree. It was done to commemorate the brilliant twinkling of the stars above the pine trees.

Americans were slow to embrace the tradition of a tree in the house. German settlers in Pennsylvania had trees in their homes and a community tree in 1747. But other Americans saw trees as pagan symbols. Christmas was a sacred time to the puritan Pilgrims and William Bradford, the second governor, penalized anyone partaking in such frivolity, something he deemed pagan mockery. Oliver Cromwell also preached about the heathen traditions of Christmas carols, decorated trees and any joyful expression related to the birth of Christ. In 1659, Massachusetts passed a law making any observance of December 25, other than at a church service, illegal. People were fined for hanging decorations of any kind. But the steady arrival of German and Irish immigrants eventually undermined the ridiculous law and by the late 1890s, handmade Christmas ornaments as well as Christmas trees became the norm. Once there was electricity, trees also began to appear in town squares. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition started during the Depression in 1931. It was small and unadorned, placed by construction workers at the center of the construction site as they were building the plaza what would eventually house Radio City Music Hall, RCA NBC and he famous skating rink. Two years later, a tree with lights appeared. In 1948, the tallest Rockefeller Center tree was erected at 100 feet. Each year the tree twinkles with more than 25,000 lights.

Our tree is 7 feet tall. We hang wine-grape lights and small wine-bottle lights. We supplement with strands of red and wine lights. These days, we often don’t hang a single ornament. It’s festive enough. We love to plug it in at night and just let the warmth of the lights illuminate the house. It’s perfect, it’s festive. It’s our own little pagan celebration for the season. A little O’ Christmas Tree on the hi-fi, and life is be nearly perfect. 

Welcoming December

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 2, 2013 11:40 PM

I’ve made no secret of my love of Christmas. I love the music, the lights. I love the smells, the spicy pine, the cookies (even though I don’t eat cookies), the atmosphere. I even love the ridiculous blow-up Santas and Frosties on top of car dealerships. It might be nostalgia. When I was growing up my mom always made Christmas-time special. We lived far from other family so it was often just the five of us but she was – and is – a great baker. She loved to decorate. We had two trees: one in the family room that was for the kids. Twinkling colored lights and all of the mismatched colored ornaments, homemade ornaments; my brother’s train set. The one in the living room was hers. She and my dad would sometimes flock the tree before bringing it in, then she’d string white lights with no twinkle, followed by gold garland. It was a very deliberate process and one that largely bored the kids after a while. She would pull out the glass ornaments and the white and gold balls, the fancier ornaments. She hung each very deliberately. After several hours, the tree was done.

The presents went under my mother’s tree. On Christmas morning we would gather in the living room and open them, one at a time. We always thought that was horrible, mean and slow, but now, I understand. She was trying to preserve the morning. There’s always so much build-up to Christmas. The music, the television specials, the decorations both outside and inside; the cookies, the shopping, the wrapping, the parties. The hype. And then, if you’re not careful, it’s over in a matter of minutes, or at least it seems like that.

My mother doesn’t do the white tree anymore. She has a smaller wall tree that she sometimes puts up, but often doesn’t. She decorates in different ways now, with garland and lights on the mantle; her antique santas. My sister, with her two kids, has taken up the decorating mantra. I don’t think she does two trees, but maybe she does. I know she has lights and wreaths and more on the outside of the house; Department 56 villages inside. Stockings hung by the chimney with care.

In our house, we put up a tree. The last few years we’ve used wine/grape lights and nothing else. We string some white lights outside but not too many. We have stockings. And my Carolers. We adopted the one present at a time idea when Justin was little and it has served us well. In fact, I think we all prefer it, especially Justin. He likes that we take turns, that we enjoy the morning. We’ll be able to do that this year, too, as he’ll be home again in three weeks.

So it’s December and I’m excited for the holidays. I have quite a bit more shopping to do; I wonder about doing something with cards. In the recent past, we’ve sent out some snail-mail cards. It used to be very important when our older relatives were still alive. They didn’t have computers; didn’t do Internet cards. In the long-ago past, Roy, Bobbi and I always did hand-made cards. We haven’t done them in years. Maybe this year we’ll do an electronic card. I’ll write it, Roy will create art, Bobbi will input it graphically and Kevin will program it.

Maybe.

There are many birthdays this month, starting with Roy tomorrow. Kevin’s is on the 8th, then Khris on the 21st, John on the 27th (or maybe it’s the 28th), mine on the 30th. Kevin and I have at least one nephew with a birthday this month; I believe I have a cousin or two also celebrating. Maguire’s birthday was on Christmas day. Justin’s is on January 2nd, so it’s close but not quite.

December is cold and snowy and wondrous and twinkling and bright and full of cinnamon and sugar and all things light. I welcome it, I celebrate it. I can’t wait for it all to unfold as jazz plays in the background and lights softly announce the season, presents get wrapped, stockings hung and joy shared everywhere.

Finding good in disappointment

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 27, 2013 12:10 AM

There is no one who hasn’t experienced disappointment in one way or another in their lives. Even small children experience it when a toy is taken away because it’s deemed dangerous. Older people experience it when they can no longer do things they were always able to do with ease, like rake the leaves in the yard. Even animals experience it, though in much lesser ways. I can see it in Cooper’s eyes every time I take a bite of my food and don’t give him a bite as well.

Disappointments happen all the time. A hoped for job offer goes to someone else. The possibility of a beautiful day ends up drenching you with rain. An idea for the next great invention has already been thought of. The story you thought was good goes unpublished. A trip you were going to take can’t happen because of scheduling. A friend you were looking forward to seeing gets sick. The family you were hoping would come for a visit can’t.

Disappointment is part of life. It’s an intricate act of maneuvering through the maze of each day. It can be as mundane as there’s no coffee left in the pot to something as huge as the bank telling you no on a loan you were hoping to get.

Is there any good that can come from disappointment? It’s hard to know in the moment because disappointment is a very self-centered feeling, rightly so. This has happened to me. Why did this happen to me. It’s not fair this happened to me. Who can I slap?

This Thanksgiving, we were having a houseful but most everyone has had to cancel, all for very good reasons that I completely understand. In the same circumstances, I would do the same; anyone would. But I’m disappointed. I was looking forward to sharing and enjoying and laughing and talking and eating and drinking and laughing and talking some more. Our best friends were joining us. Everyone was going to stay here. It was going to be a big slumber party and so much fun.

I decided, though, that I can’t make this about me because it’s not. The reason our friends can’t come has nothing to do with me but rather is about issues that are personal and consuming and understandable. It got me to thinking about finding the good in disappointment.

There is sadness to be sure. We miss our friends; we’ll miss them on Thanksgiving. But they are still our friends. We don’t have to spend time together to solidify that because it is a fact. Spending time is a bonus. Breaking bread is a bonus. Giving thanks is what matters. We have wonderful friends who fill our lives and our hearts with joy. They are inside of us and nothing will dislodge that whether they are beside us or not.

There is some good.

Disappointment allows for re-evaluation and re-examination. If something didn’t work out, it can be opportunity to try something new, to think differently, to explore an alternate possibility. If the people you love can’t be with you, it’s not an opportunity, but it is still a reason to embrace them. Our friends, like our family, are the most important people in our lives, regardless of how often we see them. They are part of us, and while disappointed that we won’t see them, we are so very thankful they’re in our lives. Them not being with us does give us an opportunity to realize how much they mean to us, now and always, in person or long distance. It gives us the chance to ponder.

People are what matters. People are the only thing that matters. 

Thoughts on this Sunday morning

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 24, 2013 11:18 PM

The rain has stopped and huge white clouds, some still tinged with gray, drift across the sky. Dramatic shadows grace the foothills making them appear closer and curiously farther away at the same time.

Until recently I sometimes wondered when to use the word further and when to use the word farther. It’s one of those strange phenomena that I never took the time to look up. I was watching something online and one of the characters corrected another character’s use of the word further when he meant farther. Farther connotes actual distance; further is metaphorical distance. Farther has the word far in it. A good way to remember.

I need to wash the car but the dance of the clouds above has me eyeing them with suspicion. The saying goes like this: want it to rain? Wash your car. Of course, I’ve put off washing the car for two weeks and I’m glad I did because it poured for two days. Now the car looks horrible, and I am very particular as to how my car looks.

I’m in the kitchen, at the bar, writing and listening to Seascapes on Live365, a station that has nothing to do with the sea and everything to do with ambient music. Very soothing; very Sunday. I should have the football games on. I’m simply not in the mood. Football makes my blood pressure rise and I have too much to do today to have a heart attack.

See above statement about washing the car.

Justin is home. He flew in last night, arriving about midnight, nearly two hours later than originally scheduled. Buffalo had weather that delayed his departure by about a half an hour. He changed planes in Las Vegas, and because of weather in Las Vegas, as well as the rest of the country, McCarren was running about an hour and a half behind for every single departure. We had dinner around 1 am; bed at 2:30.

Justin and Kevin are out running errands. Kidlet forgot his powercord for his computer and he has a big project due for a final and wanted to work on it while he’s home. It’s on a program that Kevin and I don’t have so he needs his computer. They think they can get something at Best Buy.

Yesterday while cleaning the house in anticipation of Justin’s arrival, Kevin had a great idea on what to do with my Byer’s Choice Carolers. I’ve been collecting these Carolers since the late 1980s. I’m not a collector generally, but I love these guys. Their old Victorian England look, the way they’re all individual. As a fan of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I also have first editions of each one of the characters from that story, most courtesy of my husband. I have some displayed already and year round. But I had many still in a plastic transport box. They used to all co-exist in a curio cabinet I had but I tired of the cabinet and sold it in a garage sale years ago. They haven’t had a permanent home since.

Kevin was in the dining room with me looking at the hutch that isn’t nearly full since I left much of our stuff in boxes. I didn’t unpack the china, or the antique china. I didn’t put out a lot of my good glassware. He said why not put some Carolers in the hutch?

Brilliant.

So several Carolers are now in the hutch, dispersed throughout the glass shelves. I put an antique tapestry runner on the dining room table with a Santa in his sleigh, another Santa holding a glass of wine. It looks festive, but not too Christmasy. I decorate; I don’t over decorate. Plus, it’s not yet Thanksgiving. As much as I’m itching for the music and to put up my tree, I have to exercise restraint else my boys will lock me in a closet.

Cooper is snoozing on the floor next to me. His feet are racing. He’s off in a field somewhere and the breeze is blowing through his fur, the sun is on his back. Life is good.

Justin just texted me. They’re on their way back; it’s ok for me to start cooking breakfast. Soon I’ll have all my boys here. Life is good indeed. 

And a bunch of birds next to a palm tree

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 20, 2013 11:27 PM

One of the signature songs of the holiday season is The Twelve Days of Christmas. It was first published in England in 1780 but not as a song. It was a rhyme, or chant, thought to be French in origin. It appeared in a book for kids called Mirth without Mischief, and became a game where one person would recite a verse and the players would repeat the verse. The person would add another verse and the players would repeat that as well as the verses that had come before until somebody made a mistake.

The rhymes/verses were set to music in 1909 by English composer Frederic Austin who also gave the song the prolonged “five golden rings.” Originally, it was just five gold rings. The golden adds so much more.

Some say the lyrics have no meaning at all. Some say that perhaps the gifts described have some sort of significance. For the life of me, I can’t figure out who needs eight maids a-milking or 10 lords a-leaping. Who has the room for them? Some, like the Catholic church, believe that – at least originally – there was meaning to each verse. Because Roman Catholics in England weren’t permitted to practice their faith openly between 1558 and 1829, the church believes that the rhyme and now carol has a code word for religious reality inside each element, and that the twelve corresponds to the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost.

According to Ann Ball, who wrote the Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, the two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments; the three French hens stood for faith, hope and love; the four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the five gold rings represented the first five books of the Old Testament; six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation; seven swans a-swimming represented prophesy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership and mercy; eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes; nine ladies dancing were charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, mildness, fidelity, modesty and continency; the ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments; the eleven pipers stood for the eleven faithful Apostles; and the twelve drummers symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed. The true love doing the giving was Jesus Christ. 

To which I say Dog!

I prefer to think of it as just a harmless little ditty that goes on a tad too long. I’ve always found it a personal challenge to actually remember the verses. I seem to forget every year, and though I love Christmas music, I tend to listen more to jazz and instrumental, even new age Christmas. I don’t know that I’ve heard a saxophone version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. And I don’t know that I care to.

You’re wondering what all of this has to do with anything. It’s quite simple, actually. I thought of the song today as we were walking and came upon a tree loaded with doves. They were spread out on the branches, silhouetted against the clouding sky. They were ghostly, almost statuesque. The day, like the sky, was cold. There wasn’t so much as a coo emitted from any of them. They were just a bunch of birds in a tree, a bunch of birds next to a palm tree.

Which was, according to my research, the original first verse of The Twelve Days of Christmas when my true love gave to me a bunch of birds next to a palm tree.

Again I ask: Who has room for that kind of gift? 

It's 2:42 am and there's something in the backyard

by Lorin Michel Thursday, November 14, 2013 9:42 PM

It started with Cooper pushing open the door to his kennel, which we no longer latch. I heard him but expected him to do what he usually does which is come over to my side of the bed and place his head on the mattress next to me. Pet me, mom. I would then dutifully pet before getting out of bed, pulling his padded rug from his kennel and putting it on the floor next to me so he can curl up and sleep, which he does promptly. It didn’t happen that way.

Instead, he proceeded to stand under the window, ears perked, staring up and out, a low growl and a quiet woof emitting about every 10 seconds. It was the kind of woof that said I hear something, I’m not sure yet if we need to be concerned but we might want to check it out. Growl. I’ll let you know. Woof.

Being a relatively smart woman, I looked at the clock – 2:42 – got out of bed and went to the window. That’s when I heard it. A crunching of the leaves. It had been very windy here over the past two nights, pushing dry, dead, crunchable leaves up against the house, but last night was still. Only the occasional hum of a car on the road disturbed the quiet. Far off, howling coyotes fought over food, or something.

I put my head up close to the window, making sure I was actually hearing something. There it was again, crunching. Someone or something was walking beneath the bedroom window. I took a step back. Crap. What was it? Who was it?

Occasionally I experience a touch of paranoia. It doesn’t happen often, but for some reason, sometimes at night, when the windows are open and the night is quiet and I’m awake, I’m sure I’m going to see someone in the backyard. This is not rational, I realize. But there it is. I’ll lie snug under the covers, my eyes trained on the window, waiting for the shape of something non-existent to appear. This is ridiculous for several reasons, one of which is that if there was in fact someone there, Cooper would be sure to alert me. He’s good at that. Growl. Woof.

I stood there, shivering. It was in the low 50s, not cold, but cool. Crunch crunch. I decided it wasn’t a person, though it did occur to me that a head could pop up in the window at any time. The coyotes had stopped screeching. Maybe one was in the backyard. Maybe it was a mountain lion. Perhaps it was just one of the cats I had heard recently, fighting in the middle of the night. Not taking my eyes from the window, I took a step back and touched Kevin’s arm. I put my mouth down close to his ear and whispered there’s something in the backyard.  What? There’s something in the backyard. He got up and joined me at the window.

Cooper, his work done, turned and went back into his kennel. He spun around twice, the tin floor crunching beneath the pad, and laid down. He was snoring within minutes. This made me believe that whatever was out there was probably not dangerous. Either that or he figured we were bigger with more resources, so he felt safe putting us in charge.

Kevin and I stood there, hunched over, peering through the open blinds as if being hunched would somehow make our vantage point better. There it is, he whispered. Where? In the backyard, there by the tree. Is it a cat? No. I don’t think so. Well it’s not a coyote or a mountain lion. It’s just sort of stalking its way along. I think it’s a skunk. A skunk? I’ll go check. No. You can’t go check. If it’s a skunk and you startle it it’ll spray. I won’t startle it. What are you going to do? I’m just going into the living room. Relax. I won’t startle it.

Soon the light came on. All that did was obscure the skunk from my view at the window. It didn’t startle; it didn’t spray. It just continued to make its way along the wall, crunching. We went back to bed, listening. Soon it was under the window again. Cooper stirred but didn’t growl or woof. And then it was gone, having squeezed under the side fence in search of another adventure.

I looked at the clock. It was exactly 3. There was no longer anything crunching, nothing to worry about, but we stayed awake for a while, listening and talking, and laughing about Kevin, Lorin and Cooper’s big adventure with something in the backyard. 

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Life is lived in moments

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, November 12, 2013 10:02 PM

We tend to think about life in terms of totality but l think that life is truly a series of moments. Some are good moments, some are bad moments; some rip your heart out while others make it soar. I don’t know how to live life without viewing it in certain moments. Like memories, these moments accumulate and are stored in our mind, dusted off occasionally when a smell reminds us of something or a song brings back someone we used to know, used to love. Moments shape our worldview and help us become who we are. Perhaps more importantly they show us how to live through each experience and emerge smarter and stronger.

I realize that not all moments are positive and some are truly devastating. But they are our moments and we never stop living them until we stop living. It’s impossible to chronicle every moment but there are ones I remember vividly.

The moment I met my first husband when I picked him up hitchhiking. It was a simpler time, when I was 18, and we were in a small town in New Hampshire. It was March and he had a tan. That’s what was important to me then. It was a moment that changed my life for a number of years, and eventually taught me who I am.

The moment I realized I was more alone with him than without him. We had gotten together too young and were growing apart. I was 30, maybe 31 at the time and he had moved to New York. It was my job to decide whether I would follow him, give up my life and go to a place I didn’t want to be with a man I wasn’t sure I wanted to be with. We were walking a beach on the north shore of Long Island after July 4th fireworks. I had never felt so alone in my life.

The moment when my mother told me she and my father were splitting up, at a restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, outside with a warm sun drifting down as the tugboats pulled into dock. I wasn’t surprised but it was when I realized I would never have my parents as one unit again.

The moment I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. I didn’t know where I was and there was a big crowd gathered, so we pulled over to see what was going on. And there it was. The sun was setting, obscuring the rock formations in shades of purple and orange and red and gray. Magnificent. I’ll never forget its majesty, the sheer awesomeness of what this earth can create all by itself.

The moment I saw Kevin in Yankee Doodle bar on a Wednesday night. I knew who he was – we’d known each other previously years before – but he came in wearing khaki pants and a long-sleeve green pullover. It was March 22, and I thought that the evening would be done by 7:30. At 11:30 we were singing MacArthur’s Park with the piano player, the only ones still in the bar.

The moment he cried when talking about his son was when I fell in love with him.

The moment I met Justin, just four years old and 35 pounds, still in a car seat with shaggy red hair and glasses too big for his face. A little blob of a kid. I didn’t have a lot of experience with kids; didn’t particularly like them. He changed that for me. He changed me.

The moment Kevin asked me to marry him with a Big Bird toothpaste kit and a black velvet box. “This,” he put Big Bird on the table, “is to clean this,” he put the ring box in front of me, “if you decide to marry me.” As if there was a question.

The moment my dad called to say Shawn had been born. We had been waiting in Rustico. My cell phone rang and she was here, and Kevin and I toasted with a glass of wine. I cried.

The moment I found out my father had died, and I crumpled to the floor.

The moment I first saw my beloved Maguire, a tiny bouncing ball of dirty fur.

The moment he died as I lay on the floor next to him, some 15 years later.

Moments of great joy and great sadness, moments that transform who we are, that set us on paths toward the rest of our lives where we will live more moments. My life up until this point has been lived in moments. It will be lived in moments from this point forward. Everything in between is filler taken up with work and noise, with the grocery store and bills, with walking the dog and writing. But there are moments that I’ve lived and moments I will live that have and will change my life in ways I never thought possible and can’t imagine. It’s what makes living so extraordinary and what makes living it out loud something to celebrate.

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In which I commence Christmas shopping

by Lorin Michel Monday, November 11, 2013 10:55 PM

I am a bona fide lover of Christmas. Each year I look forward to the decking of halls and the jingling of bells. I especially love Christmas music. Beginning in late October, right around the time the time changes and the days become lukewarm, the nights nearly cold, I start thinking about when it is permissible to begin playing tunes foretelling good tidings and joy. It is an ongoing discussion in our house with the two men in my life declaring, almost every year, that the day after Thanksgiving is the accepted day. At that point, I am allowed to play Christmas and holiday music as often as I want. I do.

This is a dilemma because of the aforementioned end of October. Truth be told, I have already broken protocol. Just last week, when it was cool and cloudy, I put Winterscapes on live365. I kept it very low so that only Cooper and I could partake in its haunting, Celtic type music. I was trying to get into the spirit.

Usually by this time of year I have secured a number of Christmas presents but this year, for whatever reason, inspiration has escaped me. I have a list for Kevin that only includes three things. Justin has yet to supply us with what he wishes Santa would deliver. I haven’t received anything from my sister as to what the kids are dreaming about finding under the tree. Granted, I haven’t yet asked, but I will.

And then November happened. With it came the avalanche of Christmas-themed commercials. Kmart, which I didn’t even know was still in business, has been busy hyping its layaway program. It won’t be long before my favorite ads commence. Each year I look forward to the Budweiser commercials that look like an animated Currier & Ives Christmas card of old come to life. There are no words spoken, simply the jingle of bells, the low coo of carolers in harmony, and the majestic Clydesdales. They may already be running and I just haven’t seen them yet.

Last week, I was surfing as I so often do and came across an idea for Kevin that wasn’t on the list. I bought it and felt immediate accomplishment. It was something small, something I hadn’t even thought of, didn’t even know about. I doubt he knows about it either. But it allowed me to dip a toe into the shopping waters.

I am not a mall shopper. In fact, my motto for years has been if I can’t find it online, I probably don’t need to buy it. Granted there are usually some items that require a physical trip to the store, items that need to be touched and held; items that are often in specialty gift and boutique stores. One-of-a-kind items I don’t know exist until I see them. But most of my shopping occurs via the internet. I frequent Amazon; I spend time on Ebay. Ebay has changed to be mostly an online swap meet of sorts. Once upon a time, it offered an incredible shopping experience especially where antiques were concerned. One-of-a-kind items for equally special people. I bought a World War I compass for my husband on Ebay; he has purchased many of my first edition Byers’ Choice Carolers on Ebay.

Last night, I was able to find something on Ebay and immediately put in a bid. It’s an antique item that was actually on my Kevin list this year. I was very pleased to have found it; I was thrilled to officially commence with my shopping. Now it’s time to start viewing my favorite holiday movies (any version of A Christmas Carol I can find; Die Hard 1 and 2; Lethal Weapon). I’ll be firing up Winterscapes again and I’ll be turning up the volume proudly. The season has begun. Let’s celebrate the ho-ho.

Chilling out

by Lorin Michel Thursday, October 31, 2013 12:16 AM

This morning I woke up with a headache. I think it came from the window being open all night and the cold air stuffing up my nose and my head. Kevin was already up and Cooper had taken up residence on his side of the bed. I listened to the sound of the city, the cars rushing by out on Campbell, swooshing air, invisibly filling the room. The wind had already come up, the palm tree fronds were rustling. I could see the pink of the flowers just outside the window. Cooper stretched. I shivered. I reached for my phone, always next to the bed, and hit the weather button. 52º. I shivered again because I’m always cold. When it’s 72º, much like Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally, I’m still cold.

The entire day stayed cool, never getting above 65º which I realize for folks on the East, is not cool and is in fact just the opposite. But 65º and breezy is cool here in the West. I actually had a sweatshirt on today over my shorts.

The whole week is supposed to be like this. Cold nights and cool days. The sun stays warm but never warm enough to heat up the day. I love this time of year. This is what fall is like here and while fall is over in the East, all the leaves having fallen to the ground where they were raked up and burned, fall in the desert consists of simply lower temperatures, brighter mornings and earlier evenings that are exceptionally dark.

I chilled out all day in my sweatshirt. I worked but it was a quiet day. Few phone calls, few emails. Lots to do but when it’s quiet it’s easy to push everything aside and concentrate on more fun things, like thinking about the holidays and gifts to buy. We’ll have a houseful for Thanksgiving this year and we are excited. Justin will be home, Roy and Bobbi are coming, as are Diane and Gene. Perhaps Justin will scare up a friend.

Bobbi and I talked today about reviving our Christmas card franchise. Years ago, in the early 1990s, Roy, Bobbi and I would do hand-made Christmas cards for all of our friends, family and co-workers. We would come up with a concept. I would write a story or a poem, Roy would illustrate it, Bobbi would design it and we would have it printed. We’d spend hours over several weekends assembling cards and preparing them to send. Each year people looked forward to those cards; many still have what we did long ago. There was a children’s book about a tree and a star; a carousel poem that took the form of a scroll. There were many cut-out mobiles that people would hang and leave up year round. We haven’t done one since the late 90s. But we’re thinking of doing one this year. We’re going to brainstorm this weekend to come up with a concept. I’ll write, Roy will illustrate, Bobbi will design and Kevin will program it online.

As the weather turns, these are the things that travel through my mind. Creative thoughts and ideas for gifts and cards. What to cook this year for Thanksgiving; what we’ll do for Christmas. When it will be cold enough to wear jeans all day and big fuzzy socks at night in front of the fire sipping wine, watching old movies on TMC. I need nothing more than the change of seasons to settle my soul.

During the Tang Dynasty, a poet by the name of Han Shan, which translates to Cold Mountain, wrote: “Swiftly the springs and autumns pass, but my mind is at peace, free from dust or delusion. How pleasant, to know I need nothing to lean on, to be still as the waters of the autumn river!”

It’s falling toward winter, even here in the West where it will dip down to the low 40s tonight, and I’m celebrating the idea of chilling out.

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