The year past, the weekend this. What living it out loud means.

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 19, 2012 10:56 PM

It’s Sunday night. I’m sitting on my couch in front of the fire, my feet slippered, my dog slumbering, my husband next to me, a glass of wine within reach. I’m tired but sated. I am celebrating the quiet even as I embrace the last few days of joyous chaos, days that began ordinarily enough with work and the thought of spending time with friends and progressed quickly into a grand surprise that included even more friends. It seems that Bobbi had the idea to invite my family and my Pam to celebrate my birthday in December. The timing wasn’t good though with it being the holidays and people planning for parties, being with family, enjoying the season. Kevin then built from the idea and thought: February. Wine tasting. We’ll make it a party, with surprise guests; we’ll celebrate.

Wine tasting: Roy, me, Bobbi, John, Pam

Celebrate we did, from the moment we walked into the house in Paso, a rented ranch with several levels built atop a hill and nestled into the trees. It was surreal. Roy and Bobbi meeting us outside; Pam and John sitting at the bar inside; Kevin behind me. And me, surprised, thrilled, apprehensive, amazed, ready.

We introduced Pam and John to the wonders of wine tasting, to the swirl, sip, swallow involved in the art. Then they went off to San Simeon to visit the castle that William Randolph Hearst built while Roy and Bobbi and Kevin and I went to taste more. You do have to build up a tolerance, stamina. It’s exhausting; hard work. I kid.

We made dinner, we drank more wine. We played a game called Catch Phrase, an absolute riot. We were all yelling, high-fiving, laughing, swearing, stomping our feet, hitting the table, raising another glass. We talked well into the night, sharing stories, bonding all over again. It was amazing.

Me and Bobbi

I have come to a number of realizations in the last year, the strongest of which is that I am blessed with the people in my life. My husband, my family, my friends. Perhaps it’s not so much of a realization as an embrace of a simple fact: I am loved. It’s an incredible feeling, a security. It fills my heart and makes my life a good place to live.   

One year ago today I started a little project called Live it Out Loud. The idea: to find one thing to celebrate, to find joy in, every day. From the simple to the sometimes profound and unexpected, I have done that. It has become a real cause for me, one I have come to cherish. Each day I look forward to writing my post.

My inspiration came from Bobbi’s late sister Betsy, a woman who succumbed to cancer about a year and a half ago at the age of 42. She had fought for about twenty years, nearly half of her life, always with an amazing, positive attitude, and her mantra from Emile Zola: “if you ask me what I came to do I will tell you. I came to live life out loud.”

Betsy died on September 5, 2010. I decided on February 19, 2011 to also live my life out loud, with little nuggets from what are mostly just ordinary daily experiences. A walk with my husband, a brightly lit moon, a piece of music. Friends, family, my dog. My life is rich and wondrous. Writing this blog allows me to remember that – to celebrate that – every day.

What began as a possibility has evolved into a reality. From the sadness of Betsy’s loss comes the celebration of life and all of its pleasures. I hope she would approve. I think she would.

Live it out loud, always and forever.

My peeps in Paso

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live out loud

The first day in Paso Robles with friends

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 18, 2012 12:41 AM

Day one. Wine tasting in Paso. As an extension of my birthday, we are now in Paso Robles, first time ever. We’ve been wanting to come for some time, but for whatever reason, we’ve never managed to drive the slightly over three hours to get here. Kevin and Bobbi made the decision to come on my actual birthday in December. Paso. February.

The view from the house

To pick up where I left off last night, Pam and her husband are here. I still can’t quite believe it. As I type this, she’s sitting on the couch with a laptop, checking her email, listening to my husband talk about wine, discussing the intricacies of making wine, segueing into some football talk with Mason. It’s been so long since we spent any time together, and yet, it’s easy. Comfortable. There are a lot of people around so we haven’t been able to just sit and chat, but that’s not what this trip is about. This trip is about all of us, hanging out, tasting wine, relaxing, eating good home cooked food, listening to music. Relaxing.

The six of us – Kevin and I, Roy and Bobbi, and Pam and John – started the day as most people do, with much coffee. Then we piled into the cars, and off we went to begin. We started at Niner, which looks like a Spanish style mission, big flat stones and high windows. Inside, vaulted ceilings with beams, a tasting counter in the center, an enormous fireplace on the side. In the back room, a kitchen filled with industrial stainless steel equipment, the tables ready for a Mardi Gras party tomorrow night where they’ll serve jambalaya.

In the hills was a heart-shaped grove of trees, nestled between two converging hillsides, dormant grape vines on either side.

Inside Niner

We wound our way to Midnight Cellars, where we were greeted by a beautiful Maine Coon cat named Chardonnay who followed us inside and proceeded to sleep on the purses that Bobbi and Pam had placed on the floor in front of the bar. We were the only ones there and our pourer spent a lot of time with us, pouring more than was on the tasting menu. At L’Aventure, we tasted four wines, all made by a French wine maker in a Bordeaux and Rhone style. They were great. Treana Hope was next. Also quiet, largely because it was a Friday and Friday’s are not huge tasting days on an obscure day in February. It will be busier tomorrow. It being so quiet today meant that we could hang at the tasting bars longer than we might have otherwise because there was no hurry for us to leave, time to taste and talk and learn about how each winery makes wine. We chatted with the pourer and then moved outside to sit in the sun for a few minutes, in slotted rocking chairs made of teak, relaxing, basking, enjoying the wonder of the day and the break from reality.

The Model A

Last stop, a hilltop winery with a view that gazed across the valley, clear and crisp. Calcareous. The sun was still high enough that the air was warm. We stood outside, all of us, with our wine glasses. A chocolate lab was playing in the grass. Several other couples were sipping their taste at an outdoor table. A Model A truck in amazing condition was parked near the barn awaiting its cargo.

The day was getting late. We were all tired and incredibly lazy. A day of wine tasting will do that.

We headed back to the house in the hills, the house with no cell service, no high-speed internet, but lots of wine, lots of good food, amazing friends.

Mason is cooking tonight. He’s in the kitchen trying to find things to cook with. He’s making hot pastrami sandwiches. I’m hungry already. Bobbi is taking a nap. Roy is looking through the photos he took today. Kevin is sitting at the bar, watching Mason cook, having another glass of wine. I’m writing.

It’s a lovely night after a lovelier day. Tomorrow will be another. I hope we’ll be up to it. After all, wine tasting is hard work, and the vines are leading the way.

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On the road again

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 16, 2012 10:58 PM

Apologies, or maybe not, to Willie Nelson but we’re on the road again, road trippin’ it up to Paso Robles, some great wine country just inland from the ocean in Central California. It’s about three and a half hours from our house. We loaded up the Rover with a suitcase, a bag with necessities like makeup, lotion, toothbrushes, lots of CDs, bottled water, three computers and the iPad. Basically all of the comforts of home inside four red doors with a transmission that gets 15 miles per gallon on a good day. The only thing missing is the vintage puppy. He’s home, no doubt asleep on his new rug, hanging with the dog whisperer, our dog sitter, also known as Karen.

We drove along the 101, heading north, past Ventura and through Santa Barbara before we finally broke free of civilization. To our left was the ocean; to the right rolling hills of the lightest green. As we went inland a bit, watching the tall grass and much taller trees whipping in the wind. A bicycle peloton pedaled by and I marveled at their dedication to be riding in this wind. It’s a bit of a losing battle and can suck all of the fun out of a ride. I speak from experience.

Cows, black and brown, dotted the landscape on either side. The hills and grass became greener the further north we drove. The road was smooth, newly paved and pleasant. White fences lined property, and more cows, lazy cows, lying down, the sun kissing their fur, no doubt warming their souls. A hawk flew over the vineyards that started to appear just north of Solvang. Some were so close, we could see the knarly in the wood as it trained around wire. They stayed with us for miles, before running up against a dairy farm and the exit to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Other than the cows, and then some sheep, a horse or two, there was no animal or human activity. In the distance, a house, then another dotted the hillside to the west. Suddenly, another vineyard filled with workers. Without grapes to harvest, I can only speculate that they were training the vines. I hope they’re obedient.

The road ahead was filled with trucks, and other SUVs; the road behind littered with the cars we had zoomed by in our quest to get even less miles per gallon that normal.

More vines, and still more. We could tell we were getting close to our destination as the number of cows diminished as did the amount of bugs going kamikaze on the windshield. Where there’s livestock there always seem to be bugs willing to die for a piece of glass. 

The temperature, not hot today, began to drop as we got closer to our destination. We went through Santa Maria, not big, but after all of the nothing, it seemed a metropolis. There were gas stations, a Burger King, a Harley Davidson dealership, a Best Western side by side with a Marriot. Casa de Oro, a winery with a tasting room alongside the freeway, looked moderately enticing, but we had places to go so we didn’t truly give it a thought. Up the road a bit, Laetitia, another winery. Again, hardly a glance in its direction. Roy and Bobbi were some time ahead of us, there already, waiting to truly begin our trip. This morning, as we were both working, she came online with her word of the day: wube. She quickly corrected her finger position on the keyboard. Wine. I laughed.

She sent a text as we were driving. The ocean had reappeared and we were driving right along side. It sparkled in the late afternoon sun. We weren’t far. Bobbi’s text said they’d be waiting at the house we’re renting, with a glass of wube poured. I’m ready, baby. We’re ready.

Let the wine tasting celebration commence.


Addendum: Pam!

I walked into the house and Pam and John were there, sitting at the granite counter in the kitchen. My brain recognized her but didn’t. I’m still not sure she’s here, even as I’m sitting at this table in the kitchen of this house in the middle of nowhere. Roy is on my left, talking to John. Kevin is on the couch. Pam and Bobbi are talking.

The friends I love most are in this room. There is wine, laughter, conversation and music. I am happy. I am joyous. I am definitely living it out loud.

More tomorrow. Hopefully with pictures!

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Shiny happy people everywhere

by Lorin Michel Friday, February 10, 2012 9:33 PM

I’m generally a happy person. I have my days, like everyone, when I’m decidedly not happy. In fact, I can get stressed and cranky with the best of them. But for the most part, I err more on the side of a smile and a light disposition. Turns out, I’m not alone. The results of an international poll conducted by Ipsos Global came out today and it turns out that despite the problems with the economy, constant war and strife, and natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, people are happier today than they were four years ago. Ipsos surveyed 18,000 people in 24 countries, and discovered that the happiest place in the world is Indonesia, followed closely by India and Mexico. The US is the 7th happiest place, which kind of surprised me given how vitriolic the news has been lately. It was a pleasant surprise.

The rest of the top ten: Brazil (4), Turkey (5), Australia (6), Canada (8), Argentina (9) and Great Britain (10).

I think what I found most gratifying is that the economy and money weren’t what people cited as the reason for their happiness. Rather, many said that just having a cooked meal was happiness itself. A roof over their head made them feel fulfilled. Relationships, those with friends, family and even associates, are what made almost every respondent, to a person, feel the best.

What makes me happy are the same, basic things cited by others. Talking to my mom last night made me happy; just hearing her voice always makes me feel better, no matter what kind of day I’m having. The same with talking to Justin. Just hearing him say “Hi, mom” gives me incredible joy and immense fulfillment. Ditto my husband’s voice, and my friends’ voices. I live so far away from most of the ones I love that my immediate connection to them comes through a landline or cell phone. I have to imagine them in my mind, feel them in my heart, but their voices coming directly into my body via my ear is happiness itself.

Also Maguire’s bark.

The happiness wave

I love a great meal. I don’t know that there’s a more simplistic route to primal happiness. It’s filling both literally and emotionally. To sit in a restaurant or even my own home, or the home of another, and to place a fork full of something dripping in garlic or tomato or both, is happiness on a utensil. Listening to great music is the same. I’m currently listening to Carlos Santana just because I was in the mood. His guitar is velvet and electricity.

Also really great Chicago jazz.

Back to the study. Married couples tended to be happier than single people though there was very little differentiation between the happiness of men and the happiness of women. People under 35 seemed to be happier than people older than 35. I’m not sure I agree with that. People who are under 35 haven’t ever been over 35 so they have no point of reference. I think I’m happier now than I was then. More content. I looked better at 35 but I think better now. Higher education also meant a higher happiness quotient. I found that intriguing. I wonder if has something to do with education being the door that opens one to the world of possibility and doubt and wonder and knowledge and wisdom; it allows one to know that there is more out there.

Latin America is the happiest place on earth. And all these years, I thought it was Disneyland. North America is pretty happy too, with all three countries having made it into the top 10. Asia-Pacific countries are smiling as are the people in the Middle East and Africa. Those last two surprised me a lot. Just goes to show that perception is not always reality. Only 15 percent of Europeans say they’re happy. I blame Greece.

As for the least happy people, you have to talk to Hungarians, South Koreans, Russians, Spaniards, and Italians. I blame Berlusconi for that last one. He was kind of … creepy.  

Still, I was pleasantly surprised overall. With all of the strife that exists, all of the bad news that we are constantly bombarded with, to have people happier now than they were four years ago is a good sign.

It’s just too bad about the world ending on December 21, at least according to the Mayans. I think we might have really been able to ride this happiness wave for sometime forward. I can see it cresting now, can see standing up, catching it perfectly, the sun glancing off of the water behind with nothing but excitement ahead. 

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Thoughts on a Friday night

by Lorin Michel Friday, January 27, 2012 11:47 PM

It's 10:47 pm. It’s very windy. The trees are whipping around in the backyard, so hard that the leaves sound like a waterfall. It’s both beautiful and a little scary.

On the tunes tonight, we have for your dancing and listening pleasure Jazzspotlight on Sinatra. Lest the name fool you, it’s not all Sinatra. It’s more the old standard tunes done in wonderfully jazzy-blues format with an occasional Ol’ Blue Eyes thrown in just for texture. It’s exactly how I like Sinatra.

Did I mention it’s windy? Sheesh. I think the house may implode. I could swear I saw the three little pigs just walk by.

Kevin is in the kitchen, cleaning up. He’s so good about stuff like that. I am very lucky. We share so much – a sense of humor, a sense of fun, a love of Justin and Maguire and wine – but we also share the house. And he has never shied away from helping to keep it nice. We used to have a cleaning lady but years ago, I put her on hold because we were doing some remodeling and it just didn’t make sense to have her come in to clean a room or two. We never had her come back, and so the two of us keep things in order. He often does the floor – he did it tonight – including vacuuming all of the rugs and then taking the wood floor cleaner to the living/dining room. I dusted. He helped cook; I did most of it. He’s cleaning up. I’m blogging. It’s a good trade-off.

Maguire has gone to bed. He was fairly active today, a vintage puppy on the move. And he was up most of the evening; no naps. We went outside just a bit ago as Roy and Bobbi left, so he could bid them bon voyage with a pee, which he did. Now he’s done. Hasta la bye-bye. See y’all in the morning.

Roy and Bobbi came tonight for a martini and some comfort food. Haven’t seen them since my birthday. It’s been a crazy month thus far, everyone’s been busy and there have been no fritinis to start off this New Year. Tonight, we officially christened 2012. The only thing missing was Diane and Gene, though it was kind of spur of the moment. Hopefully soon. It’s always great when it’s all of us. Such fun, such flowing stories and music and food and liquor. Such a fabulous way to end the week and kick off the weekend.

My sister is coming to visit. Yea! One of the constant regrets of my life out here is that my family visits so rarely. For a while, no one came. Then my mom, who absolutely hates to fly, was coming fairly regularly. When she had back surgery last August, I suspected it might be a while before she could do a plane trip. Khris hasn’t been since Shawn was three I think. She and John brought her out when she was little. They haven’t been since. But she’s coming on April 19, a Friday, and staying until Tuesday, April 24. And she’s bringing Shawn! Shawn is now 12 and a half. She’ll be a full-fledged teenager in July. Two of my favorite girls are visiting and I’m so excited. Kevin has even offered to be an honorary girl that weekend, to a point. Now I have to think of some really great things to do, places to take them. I know it will be nice to just be together, but they’re coming to California. We need to do some fun stuff.

Maguire is getting older, and he breaks my heart.

My husband is wonderful, and he fills my heart.

My kid is happy in his new school. We talked to him this morning and he told us a bit about his classes, his new house, his new life. He sounded very optimistic; he sounded good. After his first week, things are better than they were in Arizona. That’s good. But it was also snowing.

I’m busy with work, and I love it.

I’m healthy and happy. And I celebrate that.

On this Friday night, as I get ready to go to bed, I’m ready for a little downtime this weekend, some good cooking (I love to experiment and really cook some cool new dishes on Saturday when I have time) and some equally fine wine. Of course. Is there anything better than great food accompanied by great wine?

Yes. It’s my family, my friends, my life.

Living it out loud this Friday night. 

At last

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 22, 2012 10:51 PM

As regular readers know, in addition to being a big fan of wine, my family, friends and dog, I’m also very much into music. I like most kinds and have a fairly vast CD collection that includes everything from the Benectine Monks to Beethoven, Garth Brooks to Bon Jovi, Led Zepplin to Jelly Roll Morton and just about anything and everything in between. About the only kind of music I don’t have is rap or hip hop. Never cared for it. I do have several hip hop songs on certain discs, like on Supernatural by Santana. But that doesn’t really count.

Lately I’ve been getting into some of the old standards though not necessarily by the original singers. I have to admit I’ve never much cared for Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or really any of the “Rat Pack.” I do like the music though and I love some of the newer interpretations of it, especially when done by some of the blues/jazz groups. Of course, I also love jazz and blues.

One of my favorite songs from the past is the one made famous by the woman born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938. She started singing when she was just five years old, in her church choir at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Raised by two people called Sarge and Mama Lu, the singer who would become Etta James didn’t know who her father was, and saw her mother only sporadically. She was essentially forced to sing from a very early age. When she was 12, her mother came back into the picture and moved her to San Francisco. She was soon in a doo wop girls’ group called the Creolettes. She was 14 when she met musician Johnny Otis, the man credited with reversing her first name of Jamesetta.  He also changed the Creolettes to the Peaches. Their first song, Dance with Me, Henry, co-written by James, was released in 1955 and reached number on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Tracks chart. In 1961, she released her debut solo album, entitled At Last! It included 10 songs, one of which was the single by the same name.


At Last was written in 1941 by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for a film called Sun Valley Serenade. It didn’t make it into that movie, but it was used in the 1942 film Orchestra Wives where it was performed by Glenn Miller with vocals by Ray Eberle. The song was a huge big band hit in October of 1942. In 1952, it was a hit again by Ray Anthony & his orchestra along with singer Tommy Mercer. And then came the Etta James’ version.

“At last, my love has come along. My lonely days are over. And life is like a song.”

It’s a simple song really, about finding the purity of love, the joy of everything in life looking up, looking better, feeling wondrous. Interestingly, when Etta James recorded it, she was a heroine addict and suffering from many personal and professional problems. There wasn’t a lot of love in her life, not a lot to celebrate. But it remains her most known song, even though it’s not really blues and it has none of the darker undertones that many of her other songs had, like All I could do was cry, from 1960 or the writhing 1968 ballad I’d rather go blind, a gut-wrencher about not wanting to see a lost love with another.

But her greatest hit endures, and has been covered by countless artists, I believe because it’s about finding happiness. I don’t know that there is anything in life as true as that. A feeling of peace, of being content and of loving life and living a life with love in it. Living it out loud. At last.

Is there a better message? In a world that is dark and often humorless, full of anger and resentment; in an environment of mistrust and negativity, I’ll take “a thrill that I have never known” any day. Especially on Sunday.

Etta James found her peace at last just last week, on January 20th. She was a legend, and like so many who came before her including Billie Holiday, she’ll will be missed for her contribution to music, for her soul.

Hopefully she has found a dream she could speak to. At last. At last.

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Because I must now write about hot dogs

by Lorin Michel Friday, January 6, 2012 11:29 PM

It occurs to me that quite the conversation has erupted in the comments section of this blog, one that began with my guilty pleasures post two days ago. One of my faithful readers, closest friends and frequent commenters – and yes, I do believe the points are entirely coincidental –  posted a rather involved comment about her guilty pleasures. It was a wonder to behold, a masterpiece of wit and wisdom and self-reflection. And it provided a plethora of information about her evidently unhinged need to eat peanut butter and hot dogs. Together. This, in turn, provoked a response on the following day’s blog, The Word of the Day, by another one of my faithful readers, closest friends and frequent commenters. She wanted to know more about the hot dog and peanut butter process because evidently her sister – a woman I used to have a great deal of respect for until I found out this little tidbit – is a hot dog fanatic. An aficionado, if such a position actually exists.

First referenced faithful reader/close friend/commenter Bobbi then responded to second referenced reader/friend/commenter Pam, with detailed information. Evidently, the little sticks of goo must be hot and grilled, never boiled. She prefers crunchy peanut butter to creamy, a detail she left out yesterday, which is actually important because it’s not just hot dogs and peanut butter; it’s hot dogs, peanut butter and peanuts. I realize peanuts are required to create peanut butter but it’s still another texture, another layer of interest on the pleasure.

Come to find out, she also doesn’t merely coat the grilled dog with peanut butter. She also creates a sandwich using toasted bread. No word as to whether it’s wheat bread or white. Wheat, of course, would elevate the health factor. Recently she has also experimented with tortillas which I would imagine must also be grilled since microwaved tortillas are kind of chewy. She also reports that hot dogs filled with cheese are a way to elevate the meal to delicacy status. A feat I didn’t know was possible.

Hot dogs have long gotten a bad rap and a bad rep. The scuttlebutt has always had them being stuffed with left-over meats that might be lying around the packing house floor, along with pigs’ snouts and pigeon toes. But the fact is, most hot dogs are actually made from pork, beef, chicken or turkey, fat, cereal filler like bread crumbs, flour or oatmeal, a little egg white and some herbs like garlic, pepper, ground mustard, nutmeg, salt and onion. Depending on the dog of course. The gourmet dogs, a bit of a contradiction in terms, are more likely to have the nutmeg. All ingredients are then ground up to form a nice gooey paste and stuffed into some sort of edible casing. They’re pre-cooked prior to packaging, boiled for about 15 minutes. This is evidently to eliminate any germs. However, they still need to be cooked after opening the package because of accumulating bacteria. Hence the bad rap/rep?

The original dogs were actually called frankfurters, explaining why they’re still sometimes called franks, and originated in 13th century Frankfurt, Germany as pork sausages served in a long piece of bread. They were known as frankfurter würstchen. Weiners, named for Vienna, Austria, whose German name is “Wien,” were a variation on the frankfurter würstchen by Johann Georg Lahner, a late 18th/early 19th century butcher. He added beef to the pork stuffing. From then it was off to the races, ballparks, amusement parks, street corners and barbecues of the world where people eat about 7 billion hot dogs every summer, 150 million hot dogs on Independence Day alone.

I’m not big into hot dogs though occasionally I do have one. Like Bobbi, I like them grilled. Somehow the blackened stripes of the grill make them seem more like, I don’t know… real food. I like them on a sandwich roll rather than a bun, lightly warmed. I like them drenched in chili, so much chili that the hot dog becomes a condiment. A little cheese, a few onions and jalapeños, and a cold beer. Then I’m good for about another six or seven years.

Still, I honor the guilty pleasure that such an animal can bring. I commend the honesty of the discussion. And I celebrate all of you and your gastrointestinal delights. Really. Even you, “sister-whose-name-has-been-changed-to-protect-the-embarrassed.” Still. Really?

Live it out loud, my friends. Every. Single. Day.

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Celebrating the instinct to automatically help someone in need

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 14, 2011 11:42 PM

Wednesday morning is my weekly pilgrimage to Glendale. I have a standing meeting with one of my clients that begins at 10 and ends somewhere between 11 and 11:30. I leave no later than 8:50 as it takes at least that long to drive the 37.7 miles, mostly on freeways. Sometimes I’m late; I’m rarely early. Most of the time I’m on time. I always check the traffic before I go, via, a website that maps the county’s/city’s oft-snarled freeway system. Green means go, red mean don’t, orange means slow down to soon be red. If the red outweighs the green, I try to leave a few minutes earlier just for a little padding. Nothing makes me crazier than sitting on a freeway, five lanes going in one direction, five lanes in the other, and not moving. Inching forward. It is a colossal waste of time and resources. Most Wednesdays I don’t celebrate the drive, though I do enjoy the client immensely. They’re good people with a good sense of humor. Honest, real, no pretense.

Today, I was flying across the 101 and waiting to see the sea of red brake lights ahead indicating the dreaded “red” patch of no-go. It didn’t materialize. I went all the way through the San Fernando Valley, slowing only ever so slightly – not even orange – as we approached the 405 split. We being the community of other drivers heading east at 9 am on Wednesday morning. I was thrilled at our pace.

Everyone was being polite, there was no jockeying for position. A motorcycle was behind me for a while, then zoomed up and past. He was just in front of me as we all made the wide, sweeping curve left to continue through Sherman Oaks before breaking off for Burbank/Glendale or Hollywood/Downtown.

Ahead, brake lights began to spot, then coagulate. I automatically lifted my foot from the gas and tapped the brakes. I don’t like to hit the brakes hard. It’s not good for the brakes, and stopping a car that weighs 5500 pounds doesn’t happen on the proverbial dime. As I was slowing, the motorcycle that had just passed me was suddenly down, the bike sliding across the lane, the rider sliding behind it. Sparks flew, very little debris. I hit the brakes, as did everyone around me. I watched, horrified, as he finally tumbled to a stop, like a piece of clothing in a dryer. My heart was racing – I can only imagine how he felt.

When I drive anywhere, I keep my cell phone in the center of the dash, in case I get any calls or have to make one. I don’t like having to fish through my purse, even though I have a designated pocket. I can never find the pocket when the phone’s ringing.

I reached for the cell and immediately called 911. I had the operator on the phone and everything communicated within 30 seconds of the accident. “Hello, 911. What’s your emergency?” “I’m on the 101 east, just before the Van Nuys exit. A motorcyclist has just gone down!” “What lane?” “The number 1, the fast lane.” “Does he need a paramedic?” Now, with that question, I wanted to scream: Of course he needs a paramedic! He just skidded across the asphalt in the fast lane on the 101 freeway! But as I was thinking it, he started to try to get up.

I told the dispatcher to send a paramedic. Motorcycles don’t have airbags.

What happened after that reinforced my belief in the power of humans to instinctively help anyone in need in the event of an accident or catastrophe. The lady in the car in front of the motorcycle got out of her car. The two cars directly to my left must have put their vehicles in park, probably put the hazard lights on, and immediately jumped out to help. They ran to the guy to make sure he was ok, before they helped him up. Then they lifted the motorcycle and moved that to the side of the freeway. They talked to the rider; I couldn’t hear what they said, but I imagine it was about making sure he was OK. They stood there with him for a moment or two longer, their hands on his jacket-covered arm, until the driver motioned everyone to move on; he was OK. Only then, and reluctantly, did these good Samaritans ­– they were Hispanic – climb back into their Hondas. Only then did the lady – she was Asian – climb back into her PT Cruiser. Only then did I begin to inch forward. When I was next to him, I leaned out my window to ask if he was ok. He said that he was. I told him the police and the paramedics were on the way; he thanked me. He was an older guy – Caucasian – maybe 60.

I felt guilty driving away, but I did. There was nothing more I could do.

As I continued on my journey, I couldn’t get the vision of the motorcyclist who’d crashed in front of me, of the bike sliding, of the people stopping, out of my head. But they did more than stop; they helped. That calmed my heart.

It’s instinct. It’s something primal. It matters not what a person’s skin color or sexual orientation, religious or political affiliation. We are all one; we are the same. We are human. And when it’s most important, we don’t think, we don’t ask. We help. Automatically.

That’s worth celebrating, always. 

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Friends make me feel better

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 3, 2011 11:08 PM

Today is my friend Roy’s birthday. I won’t say how old he is on the advice of counsel (that would be my husband) but I will say that we were lucky enough to see him and all of his birthday glory, and he still looks good. He’s still able to walk on his own; the hair isn’t too gray. He can chew his own food and drink his own wine, though his wife – my good friend Bobbi – did have to order it for him. We went to The Napa Tavern and since it was before 6, we were able to do a tasting. We perused the tasting menu; I decided on three cabs. Bobbi smiled at the waiter and said: “he’ll have what she’s having.” And so he did.

We all had our tasting. Roy and Bobbi had several appetizers. We weren’t hungry so we decided to chew our wine instead. It tasted good. But we talked and laughed and joked and even argued, albeit very good-naturedly. That’s the nature of friendship. It’s all about the joy.

When I was younger, I thought I should have a lot of friends. I thought that was what true happiness was about. But as I grew more mature, I realized that friendship was not about quantity; it was about quality. As friends would become too much work, I would divest myself. I adopted a platform that basically said that if someone didn’t bring me joy, I wouldn’t spend time with them. By joy, I meant feeling better for having been with them. It didn’t have to be jokes and laughter; I could be with a friend and spend the entire time in tears. But if I felt better for the experience, it mattered. I am so busy, now more than ever, and I need to have people in my life that bring me joy. I do. I have my husband, of course, and my family; I’ve rediscovered Pam. I have Diane and once again Connie, and several others. Each time I’m with these people, in person, or on the phone, or even online, I’m better for the experience.

And then there’s the birthday boy and his wife. Roy and Bobbi elevate the experience. They are our closest friends, our confidantes, the people who know the most about us and who always make us feel better for having shared time and wine. This is what friends do. And we are all the better for it.

We’re home now, dinner is done and the dishes are on the table, waiting to be carried to the kitchen. Maguire is in the bedroom, barking at nothing. Kevin has started to drift into a nap on the couch opposite of me. There’s a fire burning lazily in the fireplace, the newly erected Christmas tree stands dark in front of the slider. I’m relaxed and warm after a cold day outside in the biting wind, putting up Christmas lights, all with the help of my best friend, the husband-unit. I have a glass of wine on the table, my laptop on my lap, an episode of NCIS on the TV and now my dog has come to lay beside me after his barking episode in the bedroom. This is what a relaxing Saturday night feels like.

After spending a few hours with friends, I’m feeling good. We choose our friends, we choose to spend time together, we choose to let them into our lives. Friends make our lives better because they are our choice, and because of that, they become our family; they reflect our better natures.

Friends make us feel better for having been with them. Even more so when one of those friends is celebrating a birthday. It’s just that simple.

Time for a Niner

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, September 28, 2011 10:44 PM

Those of you who know me know that I have several weaknesses. One is for my kid, of whom I’m so proud; one is for my vintage puppy, who makes me smile simply by existing. Another is my husband, most days. Other weaknesses include my closest friends and my wondrous family, mostly one in the same. I love to read and really love to write. I love my Patriots (even last weekend when Brady was intercepted 4 – !!!!!! – times. I digress) and Chicago and Tucson. I love pasta and just about anything made from or with a potato.

And I love wine, especially if it’s colored red.

The bigger, bolder and hairy the better. I like a red wine that is so deep and dense that it’s impossible for light to get through the liquid as it floats in a perfectly formed goblet. To swirl and sniff and sip a heavy red wine, like a Zaca Mesa Mesa Reserve Syrah from 2007 or a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon from virtually any year is to taste what heaven must be if I believed in heaven. Instead, I choose to believe in Bacchus the Roman god of wine and mayhem, probably song as well.

Bacchus is a liberator, a god whose wine, music and dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear to breakthrough the restraints imposed upon the minions. That would be us wine drinkers. Bacchus also has a cult, a cult of souls, and I’m a happy member. Now normally I’m mostly opposed to cults, for obvious reasons. Group thought and group belief bugs me. But a cult of souls committed to wine? That might be a cult I can remain a part of since I’ve obviously already joined.

One of our new favorite reds is just about anything by a Paso Robles winery called Niner, and especially anything from 2007. They have a kick-butt Cabernet Franc, Syrah and a decent Cab. They make a wine called Fog Dog, and another phenomenal red and our new favorite: Twisted Spur. This blend from what is essentially the Central Coast region of California is grown on a patch of land called Bootjack Ranch on the side of the Salinas River. It’s 125 acres of hearty red grapes like Syrah, Merlot, Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Twisted Spur is an exquisite blend of Merlot (59%), Cab Franc (27%), Syrah (12%) and Petite Syrah (2%), all blended and twisted together to form an absolutely exquisite wine. The spur, I suspect, is just a nice Western twist. Pun intended.

Tonight we popped a bottle to have with a lovely plate of pasta. Penne with a light cream sauce of parmesan, a touch of blue cheese, and sautéed mushrooms, onions, a little ham in olive oil and Marsala. I had a tough day, fighting with one of my projects with the project winning for a good part of the time. Then I went to a meeting for about three and a half hours. When I came back, my project decided to cooperate and the evening got better. The wine was the crown.

As I was writing this, Kevin said: “What’s the blend of the Spur?” I had literally just pulled up the website. He took a sip and smiled. “How do we continue to do that?” he asked. “Do what?” “Always be on the same page all the time.”

It’s called synergy, and like this fine wine, it gives our lives and our evenings flavor. 

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