25 days

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 1, 2014 8:45 PM

Once upon a time, the countdown to how many shopping days until Christmas started around the first part of December and progressed at a frenetic level until it became like a countdown for a rocket launch: Uh oh, 5. No, 4. OMG, 3. You are so screwed 2. And fuggedaboutit 1. Now along comes Overstock, a website that I’ve been frequenting lately because I’ve been able to find some amazing things for the house at equally amazing prices. They have a Countdown to Black Friday 2014 clock. As of right now it says:

26 days : 14 hours : 33 minutes

I love this time of year and can I just pause right now to be among the first to wish you, dear readers, happy holidays. I’ve written before about my love of the season, how I adore the music (as long as it’s more along the jazzy side) and the movies. I love the weather; I even love shopping, something I don’t love at any other time during the year.

But a countdown clock to Black Friday? Come. On.

This is why many get disgusted. The commercialization of Christmas and the holidays in general gets more and more out of control every year. The build up becomes such that you almost can’t help but be let down when Christmas day rolls around and everything is over by 2 pm.

Years ago, my mother used to get very into Christmas. She would spend so much time preparing for the holidays. Shopping, baking cookies. She even used to do her own Christmas cards. She loved to decorate the house, and especially loved to decorate once we moved to New England where more traditional exterior lights are not just the norm, but dictated by town ordnance. In New England, and especially in Amherst where my mother lives, everyone puts white candle lights in their windows. Rarely do you see lights strung along the rafters, but if you do, it’s done in good taste. Those lights are often white as well. Wreaths made from the fallen bows of pines and wired with pine cones that have also fallen adorn the doors. It’s very Normal Rockwell. You half expect to see a horse drawn sleigh going through downtown.

What you actually see are Volvos and Range Rovers, with lots of horses under the hood.

By the time Christmas afternoon appeared, she would start to get down. By evening, she’d be depressed. The Christmas’ never quite lived up to Rockwell’s imagination. She finally came to the realization that no one lives like a Rockwell painting, and from then on, she’s been fine.

We have long set our own traditions. Living out west, we’re rarely with family so we’ve made our own west coast family and it’s populated with our closest friends. Justin has always been home, and we always have a lovely Christmas morning, and then usually go to Roy and Bobbi’s for dinner. The next day we go wine tasting. It’s a way to extend the holiday.

This year, Roy and Bobbi are coming to spend it with us. We’re so excited. It will be a new tradition; one we hope to continue.

And at Thanksgiving, all of us are going to Paso Robles to go wine tasting. This is a new adventure, too. For years, we always had Thanksgiving at our house, where all the “stray dogs” – people who didn’t have family, or who had family they didn’t care to be with – would come. This year, we leave on Thanksgiving morning to drive to the Central Coast of California. Have a makeshift Thanksgiving dinner, and start wine tasting on Friday and Saturday. It will be Kevin and I (and Cooper), Roy and Bobbi, and Diane and Gene. The perfect holiday.

So we won’t even be around for Black Friday. Overstock’s clock will continue to tick down (26 days: 14 hours : 16 minutes) and rather than frantically shopping, we’ll be enjoying good friends. In 25 days. And on Black Friday, we’ll make it Red Wine Day. That’s living it out loud in holiday style.

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 4, 2013 10:11 PM

Today comes the news that the remains of the controversial Medieval king, Richard III, found in September of 2012 under a parking lot in Leicester, England, have been officially identified. I admit to being fascinated by the middle ages, mainly for their exquisite brutality. I am amazed that humans could be so barbaric. I know I shouldn’t be; humans are still being barbaric all over the world. But there was something intriguingly vulgar about the barbarism of that particular time in history.

Richard III was king for just two years, between 1483 and 1485. He began his reign by essentially stealing the crown from 12-year old Edward, the son of King Edward IV who was Richard’s brother. He is thought to have killed the young boy as well as the boy’s brother, Richard. Others have speculated that when the boys’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville, was declared to actually not have been married to Edward IV, the coronation of Edward V would have been invalid, making Richard the legitimate heir to the throne.

The king was killed on the battlefield, during the Battle of Bosworth Field, and treated quite badly in death, according to legend and as evidenced by the remains. He was also portrayed as a tyrant in the play Richard III by William Shakespeare where he was purported to exclaim that he could and would give his kingdom away if he could just get a horse to take him away from the battlefield.

The exact line was: “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” from Act 5, Scene 4. It occurred during the final battle. Richard III’s horse, Surrey, had been killed and he was unable to flee to gather more troops. The Earl of Richmond, who would then become king, Henry VII, was the man who killed him. In Richard’s mind, he would die and his kingdom would go to the enemy, the conqueror, because of his horse. There was something a bit gallant in that and perhaps a bit pathetic as well.

I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare and also a fan of huge horses, as in Clydesdales. Each year I wait for the holiday commercial featuring the famous horses with the long silky fur flowing over each hoof, prancing through a snow covered landscape, or a Currier & Ives painting, pulling a big Budweiser sleigh. There are no words, only the lovely jingle of bells, and a melodic chorus of humming voices. The words on screen wish us Happy Holidays.

The Clydesdales, so named because of where they’re from – Clydesdale, Scotland – are big horses, standing well over 6 feet tall and weighing over 2000 pounds. They were originally used for agriculture and for hauling coal in what is now called Lanarkshire. They’re still used for logging, though they’re also shown and ridden in shows. Budweiser first used Clydesdales during prohibition. They introduced them to the public in April of 1933 to celebrate the repeal of prohibition. The horses, pulling a red, white and gold beer wagon, carried the first case of post-prohibition beer from the famous St. Louis brewery. They were so well received that August Anheuser Busch, CEO and son of the company founder, had the horses sent by train to New York where the horses picked up two cases of Budweiser beer and delivered them to Al Smith, the former New York governor and one of the most influential voices in the repeal. The Clydesdales then traveled through New England and the mid-Atlantic states, even delivering a case of beer to President Roosevelt at the White House.

The ancestors of those horses still live in St. Louis and are boarded in the same brick and stained glass stable built in 1885.

I watched the second half of the Super Bowl yesterday and was treated to one of my favorite sites: a Budweiser Clydesdale commercial. I don’t like the beer – never have – but the horses draw me in every time. I sit transfixed, as if I’ve never seen them before. Their beauty and elegance moves me. All horses have this affect on me. We often ride through an area just west of here called Hidden Valley, where the parcels of property are upwards of 25 acres each. Most of these properties have horses; one ranch has had Clydedales in the past. I always want to stop and just watch them. I could do it for hours.

Instead, I watch them on television. For one minute and thirteen seconds yesterday I stopped and watched. The spot was called Brotherhood, and in it we see a man with a newborn colt, a Clydesdale just seven days old. The man raises the horse, trains it and then sends it off to fulfill its destiny. As the big red Budweiser truck drives away, the man watches wistfully, holding the bridle the horse used to wear. Three years later, he sees that the Clydesdales will be in Chicago and he travels to see them. The colt he raised is now at the head of the team, and turns his head, as if he recognizes the man as the man walks away. Sadly happy, the man gets in his car to drive away but then sees an incredible sight: the horse, his horse, galloping down the streets of Chicago toward him. They meet in the middle of the street. I was in tears.

It’s totally implausible, even bordering on ridiculous, but it is highly effective. Watching it yesterday and remembering it today, I could understand why a man in the 15th century, a king even, would call out for his horse, would need a horse in order to save his own destiny. The horse becomes king.

The power and wonder and joy and strength of these creatures is nearly mythical. It makes me want to harness those same feelings. Perhaps then I can achieve my own destiny. For that, I might also be willing to forsake my kingdom. For that, I would definitely celebrate.

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