Up and out of bed so fast

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 26, 2015 8:28 PM

There are several things that will get you up and out of bed faster than you ever thought possible. My sister and I have had this discussion many times. There are the ones you would expect like a child having a nightmare. Or someone breaking into your house. Though the latter might just make you freeze in place instead and quietly reach for the phone and 9-1-1.

The piercing screech of a smoke detector will rouse you quickly, which of course it’s meant to do. On one of our first nights in the house we heard a detector go off and a computerized woman’s voice say calmly – too calmly – Fire. We were both up and running. It turned out to be a fault in the carbon monoxide sensor.

Note to whomever it is that makes these things. The voice should have just a tad more urgency.

A house alarm will get you up and “adam,” which is actually up and at ‘em, a derivative of a military term of Up, Guard, and at them. I love when people say up and adam. Much like I love when people say prolly instead of probably, or intensive purposes rather than intents and purposes. This mangling of idioms and the English language is fodder for another blog post.

Another thing that gets you up and at ‘em is the sound of a puking dog. This is the discussion my sister and I have had. It will usually go something like this:

“How are you?”

“I’m kind of tired today.”

“Didn’t you sleep?”

“I did, but the dog got sick – “

“And nothing gets you up and out of bed faster” than the retching sound of a dog about to lose his cookies. It doesn’t matter who initiates the dialogue because it is always much the same. At least dogs give you warning. They begin that convulsive sound and you just know what’s coming. You toss the covers aside and your feet hit the floor as you simultaneously call for the dog who won’t come because hello-getting sick here and so you reach for his collar and try desperately to at least get him off of the carpet. It is not easy moving an 80-pound dog that doesn’t want to be moved.

This is but one reason why we now have only tile in the house. Much easier to clean, on all levels.

All of which brings me to this morning. It was early, about 5:45. The sky was still dusty. Not quite dark, not yet light. Kevin got up and I mumbled something about what are you doing it’s Saturday.

He informed me that he was going to get some rocking done. More swale work to abate the erosion issues on the sides of the house. I muttered OK, and be careful and I’ll be up soon. But it was still too early. Riley wasn’t even up yet. Kevin pulled clothes out of the closet, his customary rocking outfit of a pair of Levis with holes in all the best places and a long sleeve tee shirt, equally holely. He grabbed socks and his work boots and padded out to the kitchen. Barefoot.

You see where this is going, right?

I rolled into the middle of the bed, which I often do because it’s cooler and started to drift back to sleep. I just wanted another half hour. A lousy 30 minutes. I wasn’t asking for much. It’s Saturday after all. I get to sleep in until 6:30 on Saturdays.

Then, I heard it. The yelling, cursing, shouting, swearing, anger and general pissed-off-ness. All coming from the direction of the still-dark kitchen.

I was up and out of bed as fast as if the dog had been retching. I raced toward the kitchen.

“Don’t come down here,” he hissed through clenched teeth.

“What happened?” I said from the steps leading up toward the bedroom.

“I stepped on another one.”

I will not go into detail about what the “another one” was. Suffice it to say that if you know about the desert, what you’re thinking is probably correct. We hunted it down and killed it, deposited it off the deck and back into the desert from which it had come.

But I was up. Out of bed. Fast. While it wasn’t the way we wanted to start our Saturday, Kevin least of all, at least we were up. The day was beginning with a bang, or rather a bite. Let the celebrations begin.

I am awed and sometimes frightened by the power of nature

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 16, 2015 7:56 PM

I’m not sure my mother has ever really understood why I choose to live in the west. Our family never strayed from the east coast until I decided that I was born to live here. I don’t know if, even now, I can articulate what drew me here but I always wanted to live in the Southwest. It had somehow always been in my soul; perhaps I was a Native American in a former life.

I’ve lived in the west since 1984, first in San Diego, then in Scottsdale, then in LA for 27 years, now Tucson, for nearly 2. One of the things I heard a lot was “aren’t you afraid of earthquakes?” I suppose I never really thought about it. I try to live in the moment and not think too much about what ifs. Like every other human being, sometimes I succumb regardless to worry and wonder, but I also actively practice the “everything happens for a reason and when it’s supposed to” mantra. Granted it can often be hard to see what the reason can possibly be. Disaster and death can be so seemingly random. Think about the person who kisses his or her loved ones goodbye in the morning with a “see you tonight” and then is killed in a car crash.

So I never worried too much about earthquakes, even after I experienced the Northridge quake in 1994. 6.8 on the Richter scale. It was terrifying but not enough to make me pack up and move. After all, every part of the country, indeed every part of the world, has their own version of disaster and most people don’t move from where they’ve made their homes. They simply clean up the mess and continue living.

I remember my dad calling me days after the quake – it took a while for phone service to resume and cell phones were not common – and saying “honey, don’t  you think it’s about time you started thinking about moving back here?” I didn’t think so and I didn’t leave, not for another 19 years and when I did it had absolutely nothing to do with earthquakes.

The awesome power of Mother Nature is always something that astounds me, something I try to respect. As human beings, we believe, foolishly, that we can somehow control our fates. That we can build towering skyscrapers near fault lines and that as long as we include the latest sway technology, those buildings will withstand a quake. Yes it will shake, sure it will sway enough to make you feel seasick, but it won’t fall.

Bullshit. We cannot build anything that truly withstands the power of nature and I am forever humbled and awed by such a fact. There is no force greater than the earth itself. We build bridges and we retro fit our homes and we believe that we are fine. And then Mother Nature clears her throat and a city is leveled in 20 seconds. Look at the poor people in Nepal, or Fukishima, or any other city that has experienced an earthquake. Look at the Midwestern towns that have been laid flat by tornados. Look at the gulf coast that has been flooded and destroyed by hurricanes. Look at avalanches and fire.

We are small and insignificant, and I embrace my miniature status.

Remnants of the storm above and beyond the hill

Last night, sometime around 2, the wind began to howl, that bracing, low roar that alternately whistles through open windows and cactus needles. Soon, rain began to fall. Actually, fall is too soft a word. It began to pound. The skylight in the bathroom sounded like it would fracture. I got up to close the windows as the rain turned to hail and hammered the deck. The winds, I found out today, were nearly 50 miles per hour. The house stood firm but the air vents screamed in agony, the deck furniture scraped and whined. I was sure the pillows from the couches would end up down in the desert, blown over the rails. The cactus bent nearly over in two before snapping up. This went on for two hours, maybe more, and I laid awake the entire time, listening, wondering and marveling. I wasn’t worried; I was awed.

Today, the sky was still overcast. The ground was still wet, the air cool. I watched as heavy clouds oozed over the hillside above and behind us. And as I watched, blue sky opened, just enough to allow the sunshine to squeeze through and bath the hill in warmth. Mother Nature had made her point and now she was feeling better. I smiled and nodded in agreement, forever humbled by this part of the world that I choose to call my home. And as I watched, I realized why I love it so much here. It’s the mystery, and the glory, of it all.

Desert musings

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 31, 2015 8:08 PM

Last night, I drifted off to sleep listening to the tap tap tap of rain hitting the skylight. I find it very soothing. It’s one of nature’s lullabies and one of my favorites. It had rained all day. There was standing water everywhere, the washes were running. Bobbi remarked that she couldn’t believe how much weather we get here in the desert. I agreed. Of course, part of the reason it seems like we get so much here is because they don’t get any there. California has been suffering through a horrendous drought now for far too many years. When it does rain, it’s never enough. And it’s not snowing in the mountains so there’s no snow pack to melt to deliver water.

It doesn’t rain here constantly but it does rain. I remarked that considering when it does rain, it tends to rain a lot, you’d think there would be better drainage. The southwest in general doesn’t do very well when it comes to rain drains, probably because it doesn’t rain very much in general and because when it does, it pours. Too much rain comes down in too short a period of time, overwhelming the system’s ability to deal with it quickly and efficiently.

Oh, but how green it is. I am forever amazed at the color of the desert. People who have never spent much time in the Sonoran think of it as nothing more than endless stretches of sand. I’ve often joked that my mother thinks we live in a sand pit. It’s not sandy at all, and while we don’t have towering oak trees, we do have towering saguaros and they are green. All of the cactus plants are green, and they are plentiful, making the landscape appear alive, vibrant. The rocks are black and brown and orange. The palo verde trees, as the name implies, are also green, from the trunk through the branches. The entire tree looks almost fake, like how a small child might color it.

In the spring, the cacti flower, the birds of paradise open. The colors dance. It is because of the season, and the rain.

It rained all night. This morning, I was lying in bed, having a cup of coffee. It was just 7:30 and I wasn’t really ready to begin my day. The blinds were open and I was looking out into the backyard. I could hear the scuppers running, draining the water from the roof onto the patio, out into the yard. The palm trees were heavy and dripping as was all of the foliage. The sky was gray. There were no birds flitting about. I’m sure they were all safely tucked into wherever birds go during inclement weather. From the top of the skylight came the cooing of doves.  And the tap tap tap of the rain.

The morning was otherwise quiet, and the rain seemed to make it more so. The sounds of traffic seemed muted. I knew that soon, I would hear the telling splash and slop of tires grabbing at wet asphalt. But until then, I was enjoying my coffee, enjoying the rain, and musing about how green the desert here truly is. Another oxymoron, but one truly appreciated only when you’ve witnessed it and realize that the predetermined notions of sand and dust, where little is alive save the occasional rattlesnake or scorpion, is in fact incorrect. This desert is alive and almost lush, beautiful, especially so when painted against the deepening gray of a rainy sky.

Sitting on the couch on a Saturday morning waiting on the rain

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 2, 2014 10:17 PM

I got a text message this morning at 7:05 in response to a text message that I sent last night. I was sound asleep. I rolled over and grabbed my ever present phone. When we went all cellular all the time, I said it was so that I could always have the phone with me. Sometimes, and especially early on a Saturday morning, I find myself rethinking that decision.

When I get an early text, it’s similar to the early phone calls of years ago. When a phone would ring in the middle of the night or in the morning, awaking me from sleep, my heart pounded. I worried. At least with a text message you can automatically see who’s contacting you and decipher whether it’s important or not. Chances are, if it’s a text message, it’s not. Though it can be a way to communicate something horrible when you just can’t talk. When we lost Maguire, I sent text messages to everyone. When Pam lost John, she sent a text. It’s instant, and it’s less stressful in a highly stressful situation.

I ignored the text this morning because it wasn’t important. I thought briefly about getting up since it was 7 and I usually get up around then in order to walk the dog before it gets too hot. I thought I’d lie there for a few more minutes. Kevin was still sleeping, having slept through the bark of my text message; Cooper was sprawled on the floor, snorting. When next I looked at the clock it was 8:27. Definitely time to get up for all of us. Kevin sat up and winced as is the new custom in the morning as he continues to heal from his recent back debacle. Cooper stretched, pushed himself up, stretched some more and shook his fur into place, rattling the tags on his collar. I swung my legs over the side, drank some water and then padded the short distance to the bathroom to drag a brush through my disastrous hair – curls and pillows and tossing and turning make for quite the ‘do in the morning – stepped into some flip flops and took Cooper for his walk.

The day was overcast, the air heavy but not impossibly hot. Both my phone and the weather I saw online said rain today. The temperature wasn’t supposed to go above 88º. Cooper and I plodded along. Traffic was quiet on Campbell. There was a guy walking a small white dog on the other side. We turned the corner onto Prince and kept going, him trotting along, ears flapping like he could take off. It’s one of my favorite things about Cooper, his ears. I love how they bounce up and down when we walk.

Kevin had made coffee while we were gone. I fed Cooper, who was done in the time it took to pour two cups of coffee. Then we all went out onto the patio to sit for a few minutes. There was a delicate breeze, nothing to keep the day cool for long but the sun was still sleeping behind the clouds, and we miss being able to sit outside. We stayed out there for about a half an hour, enough to have a cup and a half of coffee. The humidity started to become stifling so we came inside. Kevin got his laptop, I got mine and we settled onto the love seat.

That’s where we are now. The coffee cups are empty; the coffee pot has turned itself off. We have music on, Cooper is dreaming, his feet racing to absolutely nowhere but his imagination. Outside we can see the clouds getting heavier and more black. The trees are hanging, defeated by the heat. It will rain soon. When it does, the trees will spring to life, the leaves whipping, the palm fronds dancing. The sky will spark and then it will pour. Until then, we’ll wait, sitting on the couch, relaxing and enjoying the nothingness of this Saturday morning. Living it out loud.

Confronting my Houzz addiction. Or not.

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 26, 2014 8:34 PM

It started innocently enough. One Sunday morning, several years ago, as we lounged in bed, we opened the app that I had downloaded several days earlier. It was on the recommendation of a client. We had been in a meeting that week and as we were waiting for others to join us, we got on the topic of household improvements. We’ve always got a project going, I said. She said, then you must love Houzz.

I had never heard of it. Download the app, she said casually. It will change your life.

It’s amazing how much it did just that. We all waste a lot of time on the internet, some more than others. I’m online all day because of what I do for work. It’s easy for me to bop onto one of the many sites I frequent during the day for an update on news, events, even what my friends are up to. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to the internet though when it is down, I’m paralyzed. I don’t know how to work if I can’t not work when I need or want to. Not working = surfing. When I don’t have internet I should relish the opportunity to get more work done without being bothered by emails coming in and people needing stuff. Just the opposite happens. I spend all the time I should be spending catching up or even getting ahead trying to figure out why I can’t get online. I’ll reset the router. I’ll check the cable modem. I’ll restart my computer.

In places like China, they treat kids with internet addiction by sending them to military-type camps. Some kids have died, all because they did a bit too much surfing a cyberwave.

Last week, a South Korean couple was arrested because they were so busy caring for their virtual daughter, in an online game, that they neglected to take care of their actual daughter. The virtual daughter thrived; the flesh and blood daughter died.

Internet addiction, then, is nothing that should be taken lightly.

I am not addicted, though. I can stop any time.

But I’m not so sure I can when it comes to Houzz.

We have at least a dozen, perhaps more, ideabooks on Houzz, each filled with dozens of photos. We have a book for general tile and one for floor tile; one for bathtubs only and one for the master bath; one for the powder room; another for wine room and another for wine room doors. We have one for indoor fireplaces and one for outdoor fireplaces; one for garages and garage doors. I started one today for modern front entry doors steel.

We are logged into our Houzz account on the iPad, the iPhone, Kevin’s Android, my Mac, Kevin’s desktop and his laptop. We search and save to ideabooks. We move photos between books. We email photos to each other and other people. We reorganize our books. We spend hours – hours – that accumulate into days.

This morning, there were 42,000 plus modern metal front doors to look through. I kept swiping the screen, studying, adding to the ideabook, sharing with Kevin. I am not addicted. I simply enjoy Houzz. I can stop anytime. I’m just not ready. I’m not frantic. I, I, I. I just, I have a house to build. I need to find things I need to study. I have projects. We have projects.

I can swipe in moderation. I know I can. I just need to get through these 42,000 photos.

Oh, OK. Fine. Hi, I’m Lorin. And I’m a Houzz-aholic.

All together now: “Hi, Lorin.” 


Hoodoo you think you're foolin'

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 5, 2014 8:32 PM

Yesterday we journeyed up to Mount Lemmon. It is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains, rising just over 9100 feet above the desert floor. In the winter, they get snow. They have a small ski area called Ski Valley, three lifts and about eight runs. It’s not Mammoth or Lake Tahoe, but it’s close. We might even ski this winter.

The desert is in monsoon so while the temperatures haven’t been excruciating, the humidity is. The clouds gather every morning, thick with an incoming storm. They get blacker as the day progresses. Lightning flashes and thunder rolls. It rains. To escape the heat we jumped on the motorcycle and made our way east to Catalina Highway, then north toward the mountain. It was hot and we were in shorts and t-shirts, but as we climbed, the temperature started to drop. We felt it first right around the 5000 feet mark. It was slight but perceptible, and welcome. We continued to wind our way up the twisting road, huge clouds above us.

Catalina Highway, officially General Hitchcock Highway, was cut into the mountain in 1933. It rises 8000 feet above the desert floor before ending in Summerhaven, the tiny resort town that serves the ski area. Summerhaven has a population of 40 full time residents.

There are a number of places to pull off the highway to view the incredible vistas. The road drops off on at least one side at any given time and sometimes on both sides. As you climb, the cactus, so plentiful on the desert floor, gradually give way to pine trees. Interspersed between are some of the most thrilling rock formations we’ve seen.

Arizona has ridiculous politics but what if offers in terms of desert and landscape is stunning. It is home to the Grand Canyon and part of the painted desert. The red rocks of Sedona are positively mystical. In the canyons and mountains of the Catalinas, there are hoodoos. And they’re magical.

Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rocks that rise out of the dry terrain bedded with softer rocks and clay soil. This type of terrain is commonly called a badland, and it’s characterized by impossibly steep slopes, little to no plant life and lots of water running through. Hoodoos can be as short as 5 feet and as tall as 150 feet, and look like someone placed rock on top of rock to create towers. They’re found all over the world, in this kind of desert. Bryce Canyon and Moab, Utah are known for their hoodoos, as is the area below Mount Lemmon. They rise up and stand at attention, and look as if the slightest push could topple them. They’ve stood for thousands of years; they will stand for thousands more.

As we wound our way up to Summerhaven, we marveled at these glorious tributes to geology. Once we got close to the top of the mountain, the hoodoos were replaced with towering pine trees and cold air. We had to buy sweatshirts. On the way back down, we had an even better view of the hoodoos. There are a number of lookouts from which to view them. Some people were even climbing the ones that were shorter in stature. I understood it but it bothered me. Somehow people standing atop a symphonic rock formation seems to diminish it somehow, removes it from its otherworldliness and brings it into our realm. I know why people do it. It’s to have the photo for posterity sake. And to post on Facebook. Still.

In places like New Orleans, where magical forces are thick, hoodoo is practiced as a spiritual influence on the physical world. Many people look down on it, believing that it has hurtful intentions, and perhaps confusing it with voodoo which can. Spells are cast and the supernatural reigns. Looking at these rocks yesterday, the first time I’d seen them other than in photographs, I could sense the magic. Something supernatural had to be responsible for this kind of beauty. Something supernatural like nature living it out loud.


by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 3, 2014 8:46 PM

I feel like I should actually title this post Monsoon! But I’m not big on the use of exclamation points. Still, it would be a better way to announce that it is officially monsoon season, that I’m excited, and that last night it absolutely poured. Dogs and cats, puppies and kittens kind of rain. It was 3 am and as such I had been sleeping because that’s what most people do at 3 am. Suddenly I was awake. There was a strange sound. It was a thundering that seems to flood the room. A steady pounding as if someone was on the roof and trying to get through the skylight. Then, through the fog of sleep, I understood. Rain!

I reached over and grabbed Kevin’s arm. This was something he needed to be awake for. It was raining. In July. In the desert. During a horrible drought.

Pardon my giddiness. I know those of you on the east coast who have been living with rain and the threat of Arthur for several days are rolling your eyes, maybe even stomping your feet. You’re thinking: she woke up her husband, in the middle of the night, because of something as arcane as rain?

Yes. Yes she did.

In the Sonoran Desert, monsoon season starts on June 15 and runs through September 30, though the first appearance is generally today, July 3rd. We get an average of nearly 12 inches of rain a year. Not much by east coast standards but about average for the desert southwest. The last few years we’ve gotten even less than average so we’re drier than normal. The ground is hard; the plants parched. The water supply is strained. Enter monsoon.


It should be a movie poster, don’t you think? Like one of those 1950s posters proclaiming the end is nigh, or near, or whatever.

Monsoon’s are caused by warm air creating surface low pressure that draws moist air from the oceans. The winds usually come from the west but in the summer, they shift to the southeast, blowing in moisture from the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Those moist winds run smack into the rising heat from the ground, heat that has been hovering between 100º and 104º just this week, and clouds form. Those clouds eventually build to the point of storms. The rains unleashed are heavy but a monsoon doesn’t last very long. They can, however, occur daily. According to the weather app on my phone, we should be getting storms today, tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

The word is from the Arabic word mausin, meaning season or wind shift. It’s a word that’s now used in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and here in North America.

I love this season. It makes living through a summer in the desert almost fun. Scratch that. It makes it very fun. I watch as the moisture gathers into clouds, first as wisps then as darkly tinged pieces of cotton. Finally the sky drifts toward black. In the day, it covers the sun. At night, it blots out the stars. The wind whips into a frenzy, turning the tree leaves upside down, tossing anything that isn’t secured. The sky and the earth collide, however briefly, in an orgiastic frenzy of wind and water and desert. It’s glorious. It’s Mother Nature living it out loud, and we’re loving every minute of it.

Spring rain in the desert

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 19, 2014 8:06 PM

In the desert, rain is sporadic. In Tucson, we only get about 12” of rain or so each year, most of it in August, and then January and February. This year has been a bit of an anomaly. Like most of the southwest, our rainfall was pathetic; snowfall even worse. Yesterday was overcast and in other parts of the country, you could be forgiven for thinking it might rain. Even though most of the time when there are clouds here it portends the coming of rain, because of this year’s lack thereof, I didn’t believe it. The wind whipped up once or twice and I heard the heavy thud of a dozen raindrops as they smacked the skylight but that was all.

This morning, we woke up around 8, which these days is sleeping in. Kevin took Cooper out and then went to make coffee as Cooper came in to snuggle for a few. He climbed his stairs and went straight to Kevin’s side where he curled up to gaze out the window. Cooper loves our bed. It’s the only piece of furniture he’s allowed on, like Maguire before him, and he takes full advantage of it. But whereas Maguire never stayed on very long unless he was completely alone and could sprawl to his heart’s content, Cooper would stay all day as long as I stayed there with him. I’ve never seen a dog so comfortable as Cooper when he stretches on one side or the other and rolls his eyes back to sleep.

Kevin came back with coffee and his phone, and he sat at the end of the bed, his legs under the bathrobe I always keep thrown over the footboard. It’s a habit I developed in California. If there’s an earthquake in the middle of the night, it makes it an easy grab for something to wear, especially if it’s cold. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand. This is what the modern couple does now, or at least what we do. We check email, we look at seascanner, we surf the ‘nets. In the past we used to turn on the television and look for a Law & Order marathon, maybe NCIS. Something mindless. Now we have the Internet.

The wind started up slowly, ruffling the leaves. The birds scattered for cover. Cooper picked up his head and glanced out the window. He yawned and stretched and flopped his head back down. Within seconds, he was sleeping again. Kevin was reading my blog. He often binge-reads, and often uses Saturday morning to catch up on the week previous. I was looking at Facebook and the news and looking for a restaurant in Tubac since we were planning on a road trip for lunch.

Then came the distinct rat-a-tat-tat of raindrops on the skylight. Soon there was the roll of thunder and then the deluge. Rain poured from the dark clouds above, swirling the trees. In through the open window came the earthy smell of parched earth tasting a drink of cool water after a very long drought. Dusty and damp. I love that smell.

It lasted for nearly 30 minutes. We were so surprised we both left the bedroom temporarily to glance out the window in my office. Sure enough, rain was drowning the pavement, bouncing off the asphalt. In the southern sky, there was sunshine. To the north, over the foothills, heavy clouds.

It rained in the desert today. Unless you live here you don’t know what a huge story that is. Mother Nature decided to live it out loud on this Saturday and we welcomed her with open arms and a big kiss. Rain. Wet. Wonderful. Something to celebrate. 

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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.   

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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