I’ve been singing today and that’s a scary thing

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 26, 2014 12:07 AM

I can’t carry a tune, not if it had reinforced handles. Which makes the fact that I’ve been singing today all the more odd and oddly wonderful. On the heels of letting my snob flag fly I have decided that taking me down a notch or two is a good thing. Anyone who has ever heard me warble knows that it’s probably more than a notch or two.

Still, this morning I found myself in the kitchen, making coffee and singing Fly Me To the Moon, one of my favorite songs ever for reasons unbeknownst to me. I just love it. Love the big jazz versions, the soft sexy versions, the acoustic versions. It makes me smile regardless of who’s singing it, from Perry Como to Tony Bennett to Diana Krall to Jason Mraz. Old fashioned or new fangled. Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars.

The original name of the song was “in other words.” It was written by Bart Howard in 1954. It was recorded by Kaye Ballard, also in 1954, under the title In Other Words. It was quickly covered by artists like Johnny Mathis, Nancy Wilson and Edie Gorme. Ms. Gorme’s version was nominated for a Grammy in 1958. Peggy Lee recorded it in 1960 and made the song popular when she performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show. It started becoming known as Fly Me To the Moon shortly thereafter and it was Peggy Lee who convinced the songwriter to officially change the name. He did so in 1963. After that, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan recorded it. Connie Francis recorded it in Italian as Portami Con Te and in Spanish as Llevame A La Luna. Frank Sinatra included the song on his 1964 album It Might as Well Be Swing, which he did with Count Basie. Sinatra’s version was played on the Apollo 10 mission as it orbited the moon.

I was doing nothing so lofty today. I was simply singing the song, or at least trying to. I got through the first two lines and as far as Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars

Fill my heart with song and let me sing forever more You are all I long for All I worship and adore

I know that in between is the whole In Other Words part, but I never particularly liked that. I like the rhyme of the rest. It fills my heart with song, evidently, and lets me sing forever more because You are all I long for All I worship and adore.

It’s an unabashed love song, a glorious flight of fancy. It means absolutely nothing and if you pay too much attention to the lyrics, it can make you wonder what Mr. Howard was thinking. Such is the curse of songwriting I suppose.

I wasn’t thinking anything about what he was imagining. I was simply singing, and badly. Kevin looked at Cooper who was trying desperately to cover his ears with his paws and since that wasn’t working, had resorted to sticking his paws into his ears. She’s singing, Coop. Why is she singing?

Because it was a glorious day. Because it’s one of the great jazz songs. Because I can. Singing always makes people feel better. Why else would people belt out anthems in the car as they’re listening to Bon Jovi or whoever? Why else would we sing in the shower? Why would we coo lullabies to babies in the hopes that they’ll sleep? Song makes us smile, no matter how badly we sing and most of us sing as badly as me. We just pick up our suitcase with the reinforced handles and carry on, singing it out loud. 

Letting my snob flag fly

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 25, 2014 12:10 AM

I have snob tendencies. I don’t know if they’re something to be proud of, but there you have it. I don’t really consider myself a snob, and can often be found in my office proving it, dressed in sweat pants, a ratty sweatshirt, and running shoes. No makeup. In fact, most days, there is no makeup unless I’m going out. I have been known to go to the grocery store dressed similarly. True snobs would never be caught dead looking like I do some days.

But I admit to liking nice things and in some ways, coveting nice things. When we were getting an SUV, I wanted a Land Rover. I could have had a Toyota. But that’s not what I wanted. I like the look of the Rovers, and I admit, I like the status of the Rover. There. I said it.

When I was younger, I didn’t care so much about cars and hotels and snobby things. When my mother and I drove across the country, after I finished college and was on my way to my hoped for new life, we had everything planned. In those days, AAA was the official trip planner. They charted our route and gave us brochures about hotels and places to eat. Each night we would figure out where we’re going the next day and call ahead to a hotel. Or in some cases, a motel.

Motels I have since learned, are mostly seedy. We have one on the far side of town called the No-tel Motel where you can rent rooms by the hour. Just saying.

My mom is a young mom. Back then, she was still a young woman and quite the looker. She had grown up without much but she and my dad had made a good life together. My dad made good money, and they had a nice house. My mom drove a brand new Toyota Supra, a rocket ship of a car that she got more speeding tickets in than she probably cares to admit. I remember her telling me about driving through the back roads of New Hampshire, the sun roof open, her thick dark hair flying around, sunglasses on, Al Jarreau blasting out of the stereo, having the time of her life. She loved that car.

I had a 1979 Toyota Celica Hatchback, the poor relation to the Supra. It was a great car and I loved it, but it wasn’t the plush ride that mom had. She was a trooper, riding along with me, in the summer, without air conditioning. And we stayed in some seriously seedy places. At 22, I didn’t realize they were seedy. They were just places to stay. But mom was not amused. Many was the night when I called her a snob.

Maybe that’s where I get it. If so, it’s a good trait to pass on. I too am now a bona fide hotel snob. It’s a running joke with Kevin and Justin. If it doesn’t meet mom’s standards, it’s going to get ugly. I feel I have the right to be snobby. I go away so seldom that when I do, I want the place to be uber nice. I want it to be luxurious. I want to feel like I’m living the life. It doesn’t have to always be the Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton. It just has to be special. And I have to feel special. There. I said it.

Today, we were in the local grocery store, a Safeway. I have decided that I hate this store. It’s convenient, within walking distance, so we continue to go there especially for the basic food items that we need on a weekly basis. But it’s a horrible store. It doesn’t have self-checkout, the lines are always terribly long, the checkers chat way too long – they linger – with certain customers. I try not to get irritated by the customers because some of them are old. I try to have patience. But the store is simply not great and the people are…

I can’t even bring myself to write it. I mentioned it to Kevin today as we left the store at lunch, tote bags slung over our shoulders. He just smiled and said you go girl. Let your snob flag fly.

That’s when I realized I was being too hard on people and places. I don’t like to be that way. I like to be tolerant; I like to be non-judgmental. I know it’s human nature to be cynical and irritated and to look at others and decide certain things based on nothing at all but what someone looks like. I don’t like it when I do it.

Most days I look like crap. I don’t get enough sleep; I work too much, all day and into the night. I am no body special. I have no business being a snob.

So while I do have a snob flag, I humbly lower it to half-mast. But I still love my Range Rover. 

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A hero is more than just a sandwich

by Lorin Michel Thursday, January 16, 2014 9:16 PM

In 1986 I read a book called A hero is more than just a sandwich. It was by a woman named Sonya Friedman, a psychotherapist, and her premise was simple and completely contained in the title of the book. Heroes used to be the name given to a submarine sandwich, a long roll with layers of veggies, meats, cheeses and dressing. It tasted good. But a real hero, in Friedman’s analysis, a man, also did good.

Sandwiches were invented by the Earl of Sandwich who started putting meat between two pieces of bread for a snack as a way to eat during his all-day gambling sessions. Super sandwiches are often called subs or hoagies or grinders; subs because they look like submarines. They were started in New London, Connecticut around World War II. The city was home to the Navy’s primary submarine base and a shipbuilding yard. One story has the big sandwich being invented by an Italian shopkeeper named Benedetto Capaldo who made about 500 a day. Another story has a restaurant advertising submarine sandwiches to take out, in Wilmington, Delaware.

The term hero began with a woman named Clementine Paddleworth who wrote a food column for the New York Herald Tribune in 1936, talking about a sandwich so large “you had to be a hero to eat it.”

I remember my dad making subs when I was a kid. I doubt he knew the origin of the name, nor would he have cared. He just wanted the sandwich and when dad was making a sub, it was a special day. I have no idea why. Perhaps it was because my mother did most of the cooking, as most mothers did in those days (and probably still do). My dad made fours things that I can remember: Scrambled eggs (the secret is always to put in a little bit of milk), ham salad (he had this horrible big grinding contraption that he used to secure to the side of the table and put pieces of ham, pickles, and onions through it), cocktail sauce (with ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire, Tabasco) and his world-famous subs.

He would take the longest roll and carefully slice it in half, long ways, laying both sides out, cut side up, on the counter. Then he would take everything that he had bought at the supermarket out of the fridge. At least two if not three types of lunchmeat (my dad was big on lunch meat), and several types of cheese, as well as dressing and veggies. He would start by putting some miracle whip on each side of the bread, then he’d begin layering the different meats and cheeses on one side. He’d slice an onion very thin and place that, along with sliced tomatoes. I think he drizzled Italian dressing over the top, but I could be mis-remembering. A little salt and pepper. When he was done, he’d take the side of the bread that only had the dressing and place it on top of everything else, squish it down a little, then slice it into more edible sizes. Serve.

I would sit at the table or stand off to the side and watch the process. It took at least 10 minutes or so; probably more. He was always so happy when he was making one of his subs. I wonder why he didn’t make them more often.

I don’t each subs anymore largely because I don’t eat much bread but I thought of dad and his subs today as I watched my husband making his version. He pulled out sliced turkey and salami, tomato, lettuce and onion, cheese. He opened a jar of mayo and spread it evenly across tortillas. He then layered everything nicely, topped it with a bit of spicy brown mustard and rolled it up nice and tight. A sub-ish wrap, if you will. Made by my hero.

A hero, then, is more than a sandwich. It’s a memory that is also celebrated in the present, with a tortilla playing the roll of the … roll. 

The tale of Trader Joe

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 11, 2014 12:14 AM

If you live in one of the 30 states or Washington, DC that sports at least one location of Trader Joe’s, you already know that it’s simply a great store. Never very big, it always feels more like a neighborhood market with some wonderfully healthy alternatives to the usual Safeway, Albertson’s or Market Basket. We’ve long been fans of the store but have become more so of late because we have one within walking distance and we spend a lot of time walking.

I’ve always wondered if there was really a Joe, why he fancied himself a trader, why the logo looks like something from the South Pacific islands, and how the whole store came to be. So I did some research.

Once upon a time, there was a young man named Joseph Hardin Coulombe. He was born in San Diego in 1930 and after a relatively uneventful childhood, went to Stanford Business School where he got an MBA in 1954. He joined Rexall drug stores in 1958 and was asked to launch a chain of stores to compete with 7-Eleven. It was called Pronto Markets. The stores didn’t do badly; they just didn’t out-do 7-Eleven so Rexall wanted them closed. Coulombe bought the stores instead. There were just six.

Coulombe had a different idea of what to do with the stores. He didn’t believe that competing with 7-Eleven was viable. He decided that he needed his stores to be ones that could satisfy a growing taste that Americans were developing because of travel. Tastes that included different types of wine and cheese, as well as more exotic, healthier fare. Items that weren’t available in supermarkets of the time. This was when the Tiki culture was very popular as was Trader Vic’s. While on vacation in the Caribbean, Joe came up with an idea of playing off a trading company in the South Seas, and changed the name of his stores to Trader Joe’s. A legend was born.

The first store officially named Trader Joe’s opened on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena in 1967. There are now 408 stores in 30 states plus the District of Columbia. Almost half are in California. While a typical grocery store has about 50,000 items, a typical TJ’s, the shorthand lingo for our favorite gourmet-ish store, has only about 4,000. This is better for stocking and ultimately for profit. They sell gourmet foods, organic foods, vegetarian foods, unusual frozen fair, imported interests, domestic and imported wine and beer and some hard liquors. They also sell breads, cereals, dairy products, coffee and produce. They have a small but decent fresh meat section with chicken, steak, and fish. I don’t know if they have pork. They also have snacks that they try to keep healthy; vitamins, paper goods and toiletries. They also have Trader Joe’s brand “stuff,” and most of it is pretty good.

Joe has created a shopping experience that’s offbeat and fun. It makes shopping a cultural journey rather than a chore. They consistently stay ahead of the American palette, reflecting our constantly changing attitudes about food. And they pay their employees very well.

Joe is now 83, cruising toward 84 on June 3. He sold the chain a number of years ago but the stores that bear his name are doing just fine, from Manhattan’s Union Square to Tucson’s St. Phillips Plaza to the original Pasadena location. The stores are always bustling with people looking, shopping, stopping to talk – Have you tried this? I have and it’s fabulous! – and generally enjoying buying food to prepare at home. They share ideas and tastes and possibilities, laughter and recipes. That’s more than a neighborhood store. That’s a neighborhood. And like all neighborhoods, each has a story to tell. In Joe’s neighborhoods, those stories are often served up with blueberry crusted goat cheese, rice crackers and a glass of Two-Buck Chuck. After a couple of glasses of that, you’ll have your own tale to tell. That’s a whole other reason to love Trader Joe’s, and why I’m celebrating the store tonight. 

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The philosophy of trash

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 4, 2014 8:47 PM

I’ve mentioned before about my fascination with the discarded items often seen on the roadways, sidewalks and parking lots of the southwest. I have no doubt that these items, or their brethren, are also in the northeast and Midwest. We’ve seen countless shoes, which we refer to as lost soles, and gloves, know to us as idle hands; hats. There are often children’s toys, dolls, stuffed animals, matchbox cars, tiny army men.  Couches, chairs, tables and pillows. Ladders and tools. We’ve even found cell phones. Rarely do I see books, but today on our morning walk with Cooper there were three pages to a book lying in the parking lot we walk through on our way to another sidewalk. Kevin picked them up because it was paper; trash. He often picks up errant and obvious trash as we walk, depositing it into the various dumpsters we encounter in parking lots. I asked to see the pages and he handed them to me.

As Cooper picked his way through the bushes and along the gravel, stopping to sniff first and then to pee, I looked at the three pages, numbering 313 and 314, 317 and 318, 319 and 320. It was the beginning of a chapter called Issues: A very brief overview. Based on the page numbers, it was obviously at the back or end of the book. At the top of left or even pages, was the author’s name: M. L. Rossi. At the top of the right, odd numbered pages was The Big Picture.

A quick glance at the content showed some information about the world and defense and cars and oil and dirty politics. Sounded interesting.

“Do you want me to throw those out?” Kevin asked. I shook my head. “What are you going to do with them?”

“I think there’s a blog post in here somewhere,” I said as I tucked the pages into my pocket.

Here’s a little secret: I am constantly looking for a blog post topic. Sometimes they present themselves easily; sometimes I have to truly dig deep for something, anything to write about. And then there are the mornings when we’re out walking and I find something on the ground.

These pages, it turns out, are from a book entitled “What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World: Your guide to today’s hot spots, hot shots and incendiary issues. It’s written by Melissa L. Rossi. According to the American Library Association Booklist: This may be the perfect book for paranoiacs, conspiracy buffs, fans of Michael Moore, and just anyone who thinks the people running the world don't have our best interests at heart. … Rossi's premise is simple: there are people and organizations running the world from behind the scenes of government and commerce, and us ordinary folks would be wise to know who they are. Rossi is an award-winning journalist who has written for Newsweek, Newsday, Esquire, George, MSNBC and the New York Observer. She has also written a number of incendiary books, evidently.

When we got home, I pulled the pages out of my pocket and smoothed them out on the kitchen bar. I found such nuggets as “Water Waster: Nearly three-quarters of water in the U.S. is used in the bathroom” and this: “Here Comes Santa Claus: The top three recipients of free U.S. military aid: Israel, Egypt and Colombia – together they receive more than $6 billion in giveaways.”

Note: The book was published in 2003.

I wondered who had been reading the book and why only these three pages were on the ground. What had happened to the other 397? I was also intrigued by the words The Big Picture. Rossi was obviously referring to an overview of everything that happens in the world in regards to weapons and arms and why it is such big business for almost all countries.

But The Big Picture could just as easily been about how we all fit together in this vast puzzle called Earth; how each piece has to have the exact ingress and egress so that the next piece can snap into place, making room for the one after that. People, animals, plants, buildings, cities, cars, states, provinces, countries; oceans, rivers, fish, reefs, ships and boats. Trash. The big picture is how we interact, how we react; how we fight, how we makeup. How we see art, how we make art. How we love.

In the first line of these three pages I found, the text reads: “Love doesn’t make the world go round, arms sales do.” Cynical and true. Whoever had these pages before I did, perhaps when they were still bound in a book, had crossed out “arms sales do” and written in pencil “music does.” I like that philosophy.

I think I’ll call it the philosophy of trash, and on this first Saturday of 2014, it’s one worth celebrating. 

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Up, up and away

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 27, 2013 11:37 PM

In 1967 the pop-soul group the 5th Dimension released a single called Up, Up and Away. The lyrics talked of drifting up and away “in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon.” I like the Fifth Dimension though I have no idea why. I think it’s nostalgia. I remember when I was a kid and visiting the big brick house in McKeesport where my Aunt Eleanor and my Aunt Beryl lived with their husbands.  The radio was always on in their house. It was a big console radio that sat on the floor under the window that overlooked the Youghiogheny river below. To the right and left the steel mills, then still producing, would belch thick plumes of smoke into the air. And from the radio, I remember the lush tones of Marilyn McCoo singing about marrying Bill (I would find out later that she was, in fact, married to Billy Davis, Jr) and about not getting to sleep at all the night before.

This morning, we took Justin to the airport and on the way back, to the east, three hot air balloons hung suspended in the sky. The sun had come up not much earlier and was blazing across the desert from the east, golden red and cold. The air was still.  The balloons lazed high above the earth, high enough so we couldn’t make out the people, the size of the basket or even graphics on the balloon itself. They were off in the distance; we were on the freeway. And they were majestic.

I wondered what it might be like to hover above the desert in the morning when the sun is just beginning to warm the ground, to alight on the cactus, to make the sand dance and send any creatures scurrying. I love the desert. Love its peace and majesty, its magic and spirit; its mystery. Even its danger. In the summer, under unrelenting temperatures it can destroy every living thing caught in its thunderous heat, with no shade or water for miles. Only cactus and reptiles seem to survive and even thrive. When winter descends, those once scorching temperatures plummet past freezing. People and animals can succumb to exposure if not careful. The desert can kill you easily and in a hundred different ways. I respect its power even as I marvel at its beauty.

Hot air balloons floating above this danger seems a complete dichotomy. No one thinks of danger when they think of hot air balloons. They’re too peaceful to be dangerous; too eerily beautiful. That’s a misunderstanding. Anything that floats above the earth at heights reaching thousands of feet is vulnerable. There is propane gas that ignites to heat the air inside the balloon, keeping it aloft. The wind can come up suddenly. My mother was a hot air balloonist for years and knew of several accidents, a number of which were catastrophic. As with anything wondrous and mysterious, there can be an undercurrent of the unknown. It’s that unknown that keeps many people away even as it attracts so many others.

The song Up, Up and Away was written by Jimmy Webb. It celebrated a genre called sunshine pop, cheerful and upbeat with warm squishy music and vocal harmonies dripping from the vinyl on which they were recorded. It also celebrated hot air ballooning and went on to win Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards the year it was released.

I thought of the song today as I watched the balloons hang in the air, as we flew by and left them behind too quickly. As we did, I knew that Justin, too, was up, up and away, on his way back to New York to start his post-college career. Like the balloons he was here and then, he was gone. But we’ll see him again soon. And perhaps we’ll see the balloons, too. Perhaps when they next make an appearance, it will signal Justin’s impending arrival. As they descend slowly, drifting lazily to the ground, Justin too will descend and then we’ll all celebrate with champagne and orange juice.

At least that’s how my mom’s crew celebrated the end of a successful Up, Up and Away ride.   

Tonight the son shines

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 23, 2013 12:06 AM

I’m going to gloat. This past Friday, after four and a half years of college, Justin graduated with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in Theatrical Production with a concentration in Lighting Design and Electrics. What a long strange trip it’s been. On one hand, and I know it seems like a cliché, it seems just yesterday that he was a little boy, riding in a car seat and just 35 pounds. Going to Disneyland, staying for the parade and Fantasmic and having him fall asleep. Kevin and I shared the responsibility of carrying him. It was like wearing a virtual heater in the summer.

There was camp and basketball and the time I found him and his girl friend in the back seat of my BMW, kissing. They were eight. I hardly knew what to do. I wasn’t prepared for this to happen at eight. I was prepared for 14. There were the family vacations to educational and fun places, and then just fun places. Starting high school, learning to play trombone – badly – and joining the jazz band only to quit because he couldn’t read music no matter how many private lessons we took him to.

There were soccer tryouts and an earned spot on the team. There were girlfriends and friends, and trouble in high school and getting in trouble for stealing hood ornaments off of parked cars and pushing over trees in one of the local parks. There were emotional issues and fights where he hated us and we weren’t too fond of him. There was therapy and there was enlightenment. And then came theatre. Theatre was his salvation. Once he discovered the fun and wonder and joy and heartache and creativity of what it means to be in theatre his whole life changed.

He started out building sets. On many an afternoon, he would call Kevin to ask for advice and sometimes help in building a particular set piece. Kevin would pack up tools and off he’d go to the high school.

Theatre introduced Justin to the possibility of making new worlds; to literature. He devoured it all, inhaled it, embraced it and came to personify it.

In 2009, he started his college career in Tucson at the University of Arizona. After two and a half years, he found a school that better fit his concentration of lighting and electricity, and settled into State University New York at Fredonia where he truly excelled. He was on the dean’s list. He designed several shows. He found a small theatre on Long island where he has worked for these three years.

Now he’s done and starts his next life. The first part of that next life begins in a month or so when he starts as a lighting tech on the Norwegian Sun, a cruise ship with Norwegian Cruise Lines. It’s a whole new world that stretches before. New people, new places, new shows. What a time of life.

Justin and Cooper tonight, watching football

Tonight we celebrated his graduation. We gave him the new iPad Air and he’s thrilled. We’re thrilled for him, and so excited to see him go off into the world to make his way, to discover more fun and different and creative things in theatre, in his life. He’s going to shine, I’m sure of it.

Tonight I’m celebrating my son and his new life, living it out loud. 

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What a find is the Lost Barrio

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 21, 2013 11:59 PM

We had a list of things to do today when we left the house including visit Bookman’s on Grant, an eclectic shop of used and new books, musical instruments and vinyl. From 1 – 4 today the Amazing Aussies of Arizona Rescue group, that rescues Lethal White Australian Shepherds, dogs that have been improperly bred so that they’re deaf or blind or both, was going to be there and sponsor the Christmas wrapping table. I’ve long supported them; my sister does as well. Today is Khris’ birthday and I knew she would love a video or two of the dogs. Mission accomplished.

We also wanted to go to an import place called Colonial Frontiers that has doors and ancient water urns and furniture. We were going to hit another antique place east of us on our way out to check on the dirt and the progress made this week in grading and the placement of footings.

It was cold and threatening rain when we got on the motorcycle, once again decked out in our leathers to guard against the wind and descending temperature. If we’d been on a freeway it would have been miserable, but we weren’t so it was merely chilly. We found Colonial Frontiers, and our day came to a screeching halt.

We found ourselves in the Lost Barrio, in the warehouse district of Tucson, just before you get into downtown. We had no idea the store was located there, not that it would have mattered. Until today, we didn’t really know much about the Lost Barrio. We had heard it mentioned; the name alone sounded intriguing. But we hadn’t actively sought it out. A barrio, officially, is a neighborhood where the predominant language is Spanish. The Urban Dictionary says that it’s the Spanish term for the “hood, or ghetto. This certainly didn’t seem to be in the ghetto, whatever that means.

We turned south on Park, off of Broadway. Downtown was straight ahead, its glass buildings stoic under the clouds. There wasn’t much traffic. Graduation from the University had happened earlier and the school was cleared out for Christmas break. We parked in one of the many spaces out front, climbed off the beast and made our way into the store we’d traveled to see. We walked in and both of looked at each other: we’re going to be here a while. It was essentially a warehouse filled with teak doors and furniture and pottery, all from the late 1800s, early 1900s. Some of it was from the Far East, some from England, some from Mexico. We found doors that we like, as well as an art deco table that attaches to a wall, perhaps perfect for the new powder room. I fell in love with an enormous water urn from Mexico, circa 1900. Its hand made, at least four feet tall, red brick clay with bits of mosaic tile. I want it for the entry way. We’ll see.

Then we went next door to a place called Petroglyphs and we both looked at each other: we’re never leaving this place. It was all eclectic art, furniture and accent pieces. They had wind chimes made from motorcycle exhaust pipes; others made from pieces of steel oxygen tanks. We found hand-silkscreened lamp shades for our two stone lamps and bought them. Because we were on the motorcycle I had to go back later to get them, but it was OK. They were just what we needed to replace what we had and make our lamps look like new.

They had furniture made of wood, stone and iron, all melded together; sculptures, paintings, tiles. Sadly, we left and moved next door to Southwest Furniture and Design. We looked at each other: we’re going to end up spending a bunch here.

The furniture was all hand made and while we’re not really in the market for furniture, we are in the market for doors. Interior doors, an entry way door and a wine room door. They hand make all of their doors, from alder or mesquite wood. They do kitchen cabinets. We talked to the owner, a lovely woman named Ana. Her brother is her sole vendor. He makes all of the doors. We’re going to meet with them after the first of the year to see about them making some, if not all, of our doors. To be able to do that locally would be amazing.

We support local businesses and these businesses in the Lost Barrio are quite the find. From furniture to doors to art, they have just about all of the accents we need for the house. Off of a small side street, in the middle of a ‘hood, on the way to the city. We fell in love all over again with everything this wonderful new town of ours has to offer. Art, ideas, craftsmanship. It’s truly extraordinary and serves to reinforce the reason we moved here. It’s about the atmosphere, the mood; the creativity. The Lost Barrio typifies the city. What a find indeed. 

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.


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.

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? 

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