Along the Silverado Trail

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 11, 2017 8:29 PM

The Silverado Trail runs mostly north, from just northwest of downtown Napa. You get to it off Trancas Street. It’s a long, glorious road, lined on either side by wineries and acre after acre sporting row after row of grapes. It is the official red grape growing region of Napa Valley and includes the famous Stag’s Leap district of 20 wineries and some 1200 planted acres of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, and even a little Chardonnay. There are actually 2700 total acres in the area, and wineries include Baldacci, Chimney Rock, Hartwell, Pine Ridge, Silverado, Stag’s Leap and more. A 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon took top honors in red at the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting made famous by the fabulous film Bottle Shock. 

We have spent many a lovely day wandering up and down the Trail, meandering through tree lined drives to get to wineries in order to taste wines, and undoubtedly, to buy some as well. For Bobbi’s 50th birthday, we rented a phenomenal house on top of a hillside, surrounded by 25 acres of planted grapes, and visited Chimney Rock, Stag’s Leap, Baldacci, Hartwell, and Pine Ridge to name just a few. I think we could have all lived happily up there for the rest of our lives. A stunning view, surrounded by deep red wine; where the hills roll and fold into one another and the weather is glorious. 

I am a wine lover and have been since first discovering Napa in the mid-1980s. It is a passion that has only grown. My husband shares this passion, as do our best friends in the world, Roy and Bobbi. There is something about being amongst the vineyards and in the wineries, about the musty smell of grapes fermenting, the dedication of those who make wine. There is pride there, rightfully so. Wine, to us, is art. It is exquisitely crafted for bouquet, color, and taste. It flows into a glass, leaving long “legs” in its wake. To me – to all of us – it’s food, something to be tasted and savored, explored and celebrated. As the Italians say, in Latin, in vino veritas. In wine, truth. 

For the last several days, I have watched in horror as the vineyards and wineries of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino have exploded in flames. I have read the stories of workers standing next to wine makers and owners, trying desperately to save their structures, their wine aging in wooden barrels; their grapes. Several of our favorites have been destroyed including Signorello, off of the Silverado Trail. 

I don’t know what makes one building susceptible while another nearby survives. It’s not important anyway. Regardless, the destruction, the devastation – the fear is visceral and real. 

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been there, because I consider Napa and Sonoma, indeed wine country, one place where I feel most at home; maybe it’s that I remember the feeling of peace that I experienced when we were there. It’s something that’s hard to find these days, and now it’s made even harder. 

California’s wine industry contributes $57 billion to the state’s economy and is responsible for 325,000 jobs. It’s also produces great, lasting, liquid art. My heart breaks for those who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, for those who have lost loved ones, including pets.

I watch the flames and weep.

Tonight I remember driving along the Silverado Trail and marveling at its absolute, unassaulted beauty. I celebrate that memory and send my love to one of my favorite areas on the country. Tonight, I’m raising a glass.

Sometimes you have to dance

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 1, 2017 8:09 PM

We listen to a lot of music, almost all of it via internet radio. When we built the house, we made sure to have it wired so that we could have speakers and thus sound throughout. We have two in the ceiling of the master bath, two in the ceiling between the kitchen and the breakfast nook, two in the garage, two out on the deck, and two in the ceiling in the great room which join three addition speakers, one on either side of the TV and one underneath (for surround sound). Oh, and a subwoofer.

We have a variety of favorite types of music, ranging from classical guitar to classic rock and everything in between. Depending on the time of day and what we’re doing, we choose accordingly. Working in the shop in the garage and cleaning the house requires some great 70s rock, or John Mayer – sometimes The Rolling Stones. Evenings usually require some sort of jazz while Sunday mornings are about something quiet and soothing.

Kevin went out to work in the garage this afternoon. He’s building wine racks for the wine room, so he’s been busy cutting and sanding and planing and jointing. There is sawdust everywhere. But he absolutely loves it – if he could do anything in the world, he would happily spend his life in the shop, building stuff. 

“What kind of music do you want me to put on?” I asked him. 

“Something new,” he said, to which I asked what does that mean? 

“Surprise me,” he said with a smile. 

I pulled up iHeartradio and looked at what they thought might be something I’d be interested in. And there was Rod Stewart. We love Rod Stewart. So I touched the button and Maggie May came on. Good so far. 

For several hours, Rod and friends played throughout the house. Around 5 I took a break from my computer and wandered out into the garage to see what progress he’d been making. As he was showing me his mortise and tenon joints, and we were discussing the best way to attach all 18 staves to both sides of the posts simultaneously, the Bee Gees came on. Staying Alive. And we both stopped talking and started dancing. Not very well, mind you, but dancing. 

It made us both laugh, and we stopped and tried to talk more about the racks. But we couldn’t. The music and the beat was too overwhelming. Pretty soon we were moving and grooving again. Swaying and boogying. Looking completely ridiculous and having an absolute blast late on a Sunday afternoon in the garage, surrounded by sawdust, with our musical choice drifting down over us.

See, here’s the thing: sometimes, you just gotta dance. It makes everything else in the world better and more fun, especially if it’s dancing to Staying Alive.


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In which Lorin has a cold and begins speaking Latin

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 26, 2017 9:31 PM

I used to get a cold every Thanksgiving. I don’t remember when that stopped happening but I think it was when I started having less meetings. The less time you spend with other people, the easier it is to not be around germs. I’m no germaphobe, believe me. But I hate being sick. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had the flu (that sound you here, even through the internet, is me knocking on wood) and I think it was before I had Kevin. Since Kevin, I’ve had bronchitis once and a wicked case of strep throat, both of which cleared right up with antibiotics. Also a sinus infection. 

When I would get colds, or not necessarily feel completely 100%, my way of dealing was to ignore it. I would still go for a run. I would psych myself out of being sick and sometimes it actually worked. 

Colds are upper respiratory tract infections caused by viruses. These viruses are transmitted through microscopic droplets in the air when someone who’s already sick coughs or sneezes, laughs or talks. Evidently, a cold virus can also spread by shaking hands or sharing things like toys, phones, spoons; a glass of wine. For some reason, and according to the Mayo Clinic, people are more susceptible to colds in the fall and winter, though they don’t say why. They also say you can catch a cold any time, like if you’re at school or on an airplane; in other words a target-rich environment. I was on a plane (actually four of them) two weeks ago. I was with a bunch of people in a closed room. I’m also in school. 

But I don’t think that’s why I’m sick. I think I’m sick because I’m tired, which is not to be confused with sick and tired, which I also am, but in this case that particular fact is immaterial. I tend to welcome cold viruses with open arms, ears, mouth and nose when I’m rundown, haven’t been sleeping well, and just have too much going on.

To wit:
There’s work. There’s the house to take care of (though I have a phenomenal husband who more than does his part). I have friends that I love spending time with. There is school, which officially started yesterday. Did I mention work? Oh, and I somehow tweaked my back so I’m walking like an old person, and because it’s impossible to get comfortable when one’s back is tweaked, I haven’t been sleeping well, as in almost not at all. 

Today, I woke up with a stuffy nose to go along with my tweaked back, and just the hint of a scratchy throat. I am not happy. First, I don’t do the sick thing well, largely because I don’t get sick all that often (see the first paragraph of this post). Second, the whole idea of a cold is dumb. 

Allow me to get existential here for a minute. A cold is not caused by cold weather, which we currently don’t have. It doesn’t necessarily cause one to feel cold, or to have chills. Ergo, a cold is a misnomer. It would make more sense to call it scratch and sniff, or SAS. Scratchy throat – check. Sniffy stuffy nose – check.

The name “cold” follows the theory of post hoc ergo propter hoc. For fans of The West Wing, you’ll probably remember this scene:

After this, therefore because of this. I have a cold because I have a cold. Blah.

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Experimenting with fall

by Lorin Michel Sunday, September 24, 2017 8:33 PM

Sometime in the past two weeks, and probably one night when I took Riley out after sundown, I noticed the air felt different. Not exactly cool but something underneath it that felt like cool, like something hiding under the blanket ready to spring out when least expected. Except that it is, of course, expected. It’s nearly the end of September. The cool is coming and with it, fall.

We’ve had an odd summer. It’s always hot; it’s the desert. But June was especially brutal, with our weather station up here on the hill showing temps reaching as high as 120º several times. When it’s that hot during the day, even when it cools off at night, it’s still in the mid 90s. No relief and lots of AC. 

July ended up being the wettest on record. We had storms nearly every day, totally nearly six inches of rain. It kept the temps cooler, though still in the 90s, but the humidity was high and the bugs were prolific. August was just hot and miserable. But then September eased in and temperatures started to abate. The last few days have only been in the 80s, and the nights have been comfortable if not yet cool. 

That changed last night. Last night, it actually was cool. I tested the concept by wearing my new UNH sweatpants, still with a t-shirt and flip flops but long pants have been almost non-existent for me for months, the only exception being when I was in Sacramento for business. I didn’t think it would be professional to wear shorts to my meetings. We sat out on the deck well into the evening, after the sun had set. We made the decision to turn off the AC and open all the windows. The cool air poured in; there was almost a chill in the air. 

This is early for us to have the AC off and the windows open. Usually it’s around the first week in October when it finally becomes comfortable enough to experience the fresh air of the desert rather than the staler air of the air conditioning units. We’ve only been here four years but each year, we look forward to this time. When we built the house, Mike couldn’t believe we actually wanted windows that opened. Evidently people in the desert are averse to fresh air. We were insistent; he was belligerent. But ultimately we won because we were paying the bills. We got windows that open in the master bedroom and the guest room, along with sliding French doors, two sets, in the great room. Both have screens. 

This morning it was 55º. The cool air was drifting in through the open windows. It was more than comfortable though not at all cold. We heard the paper get delivered. Just before 7, a road runner on the roof started tapping at the skylight in the bathroom. It sounded like someone was pounding on the window. Any thoughts of sleep now being gone, we decided to get up and start the day. I pulled on a pair of shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt. Kevin looked at me. 

“Long sleeves? Really?”

I grinned. “I’ve decided to experiment a bit with fall,” I said.

Here’s hoping the experiment lasts.

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Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 23, 2017 8:22 PM

One of our favorite movies is the 1995 film The American President. It’s a political romantic comedy that’s smart and honest and real. It stars Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd, a widower about to run for re-election, and Annette Bening, a lobbyist named Sydney Ellen Wade who becomes his love interest. It was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a real gem.

One of the central posits of the film is that President Shepherd is playing it safe, too safe. His erstwhile rival for the presidency is a republican senator named Bob Rumson, played by Richard Dreyfuss with nasty political glee. He repeatedly skewers the president for being liberal, and then attacks the president’s girlfriend, Sydney, as an ultra-liberal flag burner. He smugly dismisses the president’s education by saying that it doesn’t take a “Harvard education.” Shepherd, watching, irritatingly tells the TV “I went to Stanford, you blow hole.” That last phrase has become a favorite around here lately since I’ve been taking classes at Stanford and start my official 2-year program there on Monday.

President Shepherd’s staff as well as Sydney tell him to “go after this guy.” But Shepherd steadfastly refuses. He and Sydney split up, he has a fight with his chief of staff (the always wonderful Martin Sheen who went on to also play one of Sorkin’s presidents), and is about to lose his one big bill, for crime prevention. His approval ratings have plummeted, he is shedding supporters even in his own party. So naturally, he attacks black athletes who peacefully protest inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. 

Oh, wait. That would be a president I don’t like. 

I read the news today – oh boy – and once again all I could do was shake my head. I am continually amazed, even though I shouldn’t be, that we have as our president a man who is perfectly content to sow the seeds of discord and division. I honestly don’t care if athletes kneel during the anthem. We have free speech and freedom of expression in this country. Many veterans as well as those currently on active duty have said that they get the protests; that it’s why they fought and continue to fight. For our rights as Americans. The athletes aren’t all black though most of them are. And most of those criticizing them, including the toddler in chief, are white. As if any of us white folk can imagine for a minute what it’s like to be black, to live with the issues that that segment of Americans live with. I’m not black and don’t know what it feels like so I choose to respect that they do.

Their protests are peaceful. They’re not causing riots. They’re simply making a statement. But last night, Trump decided they should be fired. He called an unnamed athlete who is widely thought to be Colin Kaepernick a son of a bitch. Kaepernick is the one who started these protests. He currently can’t get a job in the NFL, partly because he hasn’t been as good the last few years but I have no doubt that it’s mostly because of the protests. I think that’s sad.

We rally around the flag when it’s convenient and easy but most people rarely stop to think about what that flag stands for. Freedom, the constitution, our bill of rights. It is a beacon. It’s a symbol. But it’s not all that America is. It’s just one representation. Another is how we conduct ourselves in the world, the face we show to others, our insistence on human rights, our welcoming of refugees. The White House is a symbol; the Statue of Liberty is a symbol. Our despotic president is another, sadly. And he is making us worse, making our flag disrespected all over the world. Do the people who want athletes like Colin Kaepernick fired realize that? Do they care? Does Trump? 

Andrew Shepherd finally realizes the error of his ways, and does the right thing, junking his terrible bill, and taking on Rumson in a fabulous speech in front of the White House press corps. He doesn’t do it to get Sydney back, as he later tells her. He does it because “the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.” 

Watch the whole speech and tell me it doesn’t make you a little nostalgic for a truly American president:

Tell me it doesn’t make you want to celebrate the genius of Aaron Sorkin.

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The end is nigh

by Lorin Michel Thursday, September 21, 2017 9:58 PM

There is actually a doomsday clock. It was started in World War II, after we dropped Fat Man and Little Boy on Japan, and is maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board. It has long represented an analogy for the threat of global nuclear way though since 2007 it has also been adjusted to reflect catastrophic changes in our climate. Should the clock ever get to midnight, we’re f&#%ed. In 1947, it was set at seven minutes to midnight. It has moved 22 times with the closest we ever came to midnight occurring in 1953 and the farthest away in 1991. Since January, it has been set at two and a half minutes. It advanced with the inauguration of the biggest threat to our survival I have known in my lifetime. Before that it had been at 3 minutes. It was at 14 minutes to midnight in 1995.

I had a friend in 1995 who believed that the world was coming to an end. She blamed Bill Clinton, who was then president, largely because she was a republican so naturally a democrat would hasten the destruction of our planet. Funny that it’s the republicans who refuse to believe in global warming and climate change and who are actually the ones hastening the end of our lives as we have come to know them. I asked what her evidence was and she cited an earthquake in Turkey and torrential rains, horrendous storms, biblical flooding. Obviously the end times.

At the time, I pointed out that I suspected those things had always happened but that they seemed worse now because we got news about them instantly. Then, it was 24-hour news organizations like CNN. The minute something happened, it was reported on the air. It’s only gotten worse with the advent of Fox News and MSNBC, all cable news networks that have 24 hours each day to fill with news. It’s fairly obvious how they salivate when there’s a natural or manmade disaster somewhere. The coverage is wall-to-wall. Most times there is a logo and theme music and the ever-present “Breaking News” banner. Enter the internet and calamity can’t be far away. 

Lately the world seems to be on the verge of ending. Again. In the past month alone, there have been devastating hurricanes (Harvey and Irma), flooding, and disease spread by the rising waters. There have been earthquakes and there is never-ending war. Famine spreads through Africa, still. War destroys families and cities in eastern Europe. Most people are blissfully unaware. It’s sad how unengaged people remain. Perhaps disengaged is a better word. People don’t want to know, don’t want to be bothered, so they don’t and aren’t. That apathy led to the single most destructive human being (and I use the term “human” lightly) to ever sit behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office. 

I despair. 

Health care access and insurance is once again under attack for reasons that I admit I honestly don’t understand. Why do republicans want to eliminate people’s ability to get good affordable health care, to be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions (including acne. Acne!), to condemn the poor to death? Dramatic, I realize. But if someone makes no money and is diagnosed with a disease, how do they afford treatment? If someone could explain to me the rationale for denying Americans the ability to have good insurance, I would truly love to hear it because all I hear today is that they promised for years they were going to do it, so they have to or else they’ll lose their re-election prospects. 

Losing their re-election is obviously much more important than ordinary Americans losing their health insurance. 

I despair.

Climate change is a hoax. Scientists are to be ridiculed. World leaders are to be mocked. Threats are made easily. 

So I find myself wondering if maybe the end really is nigh this time. This week, the toddler went to the United Nations and proceeded to embarrass us yet again, threatening to destroy a country. Interestingly, what he said is exactly what the regime in North Korea has been telling its people for decades. Now they have footage that doesn’t even need to be edited to show that they have always been right. Does he think this will end well? 

I’m no longer friends with the woman who was, once upon a time, concerned that the world would be ending soon. I couldn’t stomach her politics anymore. I have friends now who are republicans and I have no trouble with them. But there was something about the doomsday attitude, coupled with supporting people who were bringing it about that just rubbed me the wrong way.

If the world ends soon, I will have been proved wrong and my once upon a time friend will be exultant. But we’ll all be dead so it won’t matter. And at least I won’t have to worry anymore about affordable health insurance.

Tick tock

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Back to wonderful school

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, September 20, 2017 10:56 PM

Every year, in August, the country is subjected to flyers and commercials about getting the kids ready to go back to school. New clothes, new shoes, and of course, new supplies. I remember when I was little and going back to school. I’m sure we had to get new shoes and new notebooks and pencils, but I don’t remember it being a huge deal. It was just the end of summer and therefore, the end of freedom as we knew it. When Justin was little, back to school was different. At the end of each summer, we’d trot off to Target and outfit him with new clothes and shoes. Then we’d go to Staples to get whatever school supplies he needed. Notebooks, pens, pencils, calculators. As he got older, computers were involved.

I haven’t thought about back to school much since we sent him off to college. Once he was gone, he was gone. He never came home to live again. We helped with money, but he bought his own stuff as needed. It’s as it should be as you get older.

There used to be some great television commercials about back to school. The one that always comes to mind is the one with the Christmas song “the most wonderful time of the year,” with the parents experiencing sheer bliss while the kids are dragging their feet as they go through some store (maybe Staples?). It works because all parents get it. After having the kids home all summer, it’s time. It also works because of the juxtaposition. Kids are usually the ones who are excited, because of Christmas. But with the Christmas song used for back to school, it’s the parents who are excited.

On Monday, I’m going back to school. Last spring, I applied to a writing program at Stanford University and I was accepted. It’s a two-year program, done entirely online. Each semester is a quarter so there are four quarters of class each year. I believe I’ll be in school for seven of the next eight quarters. I thought I’d be in school for eight but I found out that the classes I’d taken previously fulfill an elective requirement which would have taken up one of the quarters. 

I didn’t buy new clothes, though I did get new sneakers. I’m still using the same computer; I didn’t need a new notebook or pencils/pens. I have plenty of both. But I feel like a kid again. The summer is winding down. The heat has begun to dissipate. The days are warm but the nights are cooling. The days are shorter. It’s dark earlier.

Today the first lecture and assignments were posted. I love that they tell us that each week is only 4 – 6 hours. Because what they tell us is wrong. Our first “assignment” was an introduction and an elevator pitch for what we’ll be writing about during this program. Then there is reading and two other writing assignments along with several discussion points. Just next week. Each week is going to be like that.

And I can’t wait. Bring it on. Because I’m going back to school and that’s something I’m celebrating. It’s definitely the most wonderful time of the year.

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The myth of a middle aged white woman

by Lorin Michel Friday, September 15, 2017 8:52 PM

I am a middle-aged white woman. There, I said it. I have hair that needs colored, and lines around my eyes and mouth; my neck is starting to get that weird crepey thing as women’s necks do. I don’t feel old though I fear I’m starting to look it. I don’t care that much; truly. But you can’t work in the beauty industry as long as I did and not notice these things, and feel just a hint of self-consciousness, a twinge, like when you get up after sitting too long and your knees aren’t happy. Like when you stub your toe and you have a moment, a short lag time between “this is going to hurt” to “Jesus Christ that hurts!” 

I get my hair cut and colored every five weeks. I’m not as gray as a lot of my friends, or so my hairdresser tells me. I can’t really see it because the lighting in our bathroom isn’t great for seeing gray hair, and neither are my eyes. I try to exercise, I attempt to eat somewhat healthily, though I could be better at both. I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that I just don’t care that much anymore. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. Just a thing I guess. 

It’s Friday afternoon, and as I so often am at this time of the day, I’m sitting at my desk. The sun has started its descent into the western sky so it’s bathing my desk. It’s hot but not unbearable. Kevin is out running errands. Up until a few minutes ago, I was working but it’s after 5 now. All of my clients have left for the weekend. Right now it’s just me and Riley, awaiting the return of the husband/dad unit so that our weekend can begin as well. 

This week, I spent three days in Sacramento, at a training with one of my clients. The interesting thing about my job is how many clients I have that I’ve never met. I talk to people on the phone; I text and email. We work together for years and there’s really no need to get together. But this weekend required face time, and I did wonder if some would find me too old. I needn’t have worried. Nobody seemed to care, and there were many my age. I boarded a plane on Monday, flew first to Phoenix (a whopping 22-minute flight) and then connected to Sacramento. I flew home Wednesday night, getting in at 10:45. Yesterday was a little blurry – two days of 8 am to 5 pm meetings are a bit exhausting – but today has been better. Yesterday, my eyes were glassy, my skin felt thick. Even my hair was tired. Today was better. Today I felt more human.

I got up a little later than normal but the day was cooler than it has been. I slipped into shorts and a tee, laced up my new white and gray Adidas shoes and with husband in tow, off we went to walk the dog. It was breezy, only mid 70s. We saw no one and encountered no creatures. Back at home, we made coffee, Kevin cleaned up last night’s dishes and I watered the plants on the deck. I went to work and spent the day happily ensconced there, at my desk, surveying the desert, watching the wind blow the trees, marveling that my new sneakers are so comfortable I hardly know I’m wearing shoes. Even by sneaker standards, these are more like slippers.

What does it mean to be a middle-aged white woman? I honestly don’t know. I suppose it means acceptance of certain things, of not apologizing for the way you are. It means not really caring that you have a few gray hairs or lines around your eyes. After all, having those things means you’ve lived long and hopefully well. It means it’s all good, and if you have a view and really comfortable sneakers, it’s better than that. It’s living it out loud.

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I can not

by Lorin Michel Thursday, September 7, 2017 10:09 PM

Children are very quick to use the word “can’t.” It’s easy. To say you can’t is to not have to try. It compensates for trying and failing so why try at all? Life is scary and “I can’t” keeps the fear away. I think children say “can’t” in much the same way they say “no.”

When I was little my mother used to say that can’t never did anything. It’s true, of course. At the time, I hated that phrase, but I understand it now. I used it a time or three on Justin when he was little. When my mom used to say it, I thought it was one of those motherly pearls that only she used. I’ve since found out that it’s a relatively common phrase, employed by parents the world over.

Whatever its origin, the philosophy it expounds is a good one, and something I long ago took to heart. To coin another over-used phrase, I developed a “can do” attitude. I moved west and made a life for myself when I knew virtually no one and had no job. We wanted to build a house and rather than thinking we can’t do that, we decided that we actually could. I started my own business, I’m going back to school, I divorced a man who made me unhappy and married one who makes me very happy, all because I can. 

But there are times when I just can not …

I can not get over the horrific fires burning in so much of the west, and that they are getting almost zero coverage from the national media. I can not understand why so many people refuse to believe that there is climate change when the climate and the weather is so clearly changing and not for the better. 

I can not believe where we are, what we’ve become, who is in charge, why we are here.

I can’t stand the constant whiplash, the fear, the need to constantly check the news to see where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re threatening, if we’ve carried through on any. One day one thing is said, the next a new thing is said superseding yesterday’s thing. One day there is an accusation, the next it is rescinded or doubled down on, or forgotten altogether. I can’t believe that so many don’t seem to care. 

Someone with no beliefs can’t truly be trusted. That’s not to say that everyone knows exactly how they feel about every given topic. I’m on the fence about Indian food, for instance. Ditto watching and rooting for football. Also skittles. But I know how I feel about climate change and abortion rights and animal safety and water preservation and solar power. I know how I feel about mornings (bad) and Saturday nights (excellent). I have no doubt in my mind that I would give my life for my family, friends, and dog. 

But someone with no beliefs is someone with no center, no moral code, someone who doesn’t care enough to have an opinion. That scares me, and I can’t understand it. I can’t embrace it. I can’t respect it. I can not. 

I’m talking about big things here. Things that matter, things that are life and death for hundreds of millions of people if not billions around the world. I’m talking about being cavalier with nuclear annihilation, and the fate of children and young adults. I’m talking about not really caring if the poorest among society have access to health care. I’m talking about telling everyone to have a good time after they’ve lost their homes, their everything, including, for some, their lives. That scares me, and I don’t respect it. I can not. 

I know that can’t never did anything. I believe in a can-do attitude. I try to live on the positive side of life. But sometimes, some days, I feel overwhelmed, and I can not. 

So instead I look forward to starting school. I mark the calendar days leading to our next trip wine tasting. I watch the storms roll up from the south and sit at my desk, surveying the view from my office, a rolling sea of green desert punctuated with flat roof homes in the valley below. I listen to good music. I think about maybe trying Indian food again. I look at my dog, sleeping in front of the fan, the manufactured wind blowing his fur, and I smile.

Because I can.

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Sometimes I wonder

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 4, 2017 10:24 PM

My Aunt Beryl died in late spring/early summer of 2013. I miss her. She was, to use an over-used word, a character. Self-sufficient, well-informed, well-traveled, she had lived alone for decades having lost everyone close to her including her husband, her sister, even her beloved dog, Pepper. She rattled around in a four-story house above the river in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in sight of the shuttered steel mills where she worked for years before retiring. The house had been purchased for her mother, and for a while, the family lived there. My mother spent the first few years of her life in that brick house. My mother’s father, a turret gunner, was killed on his first mission in World War II. 

Aunt Beryl married later in life, becoming a wife to a man who was much older and already had children from a previous marriage. She never had children of her own but instead doted on my mother, her niece, and on her dog. She was cantankerous and socially awkward, and always engaged. She absorbed everything and had working knowledge of most things, especially when it came to popular culture and politics. 

I don’t know when she and I started talking on a fairly regular basis. There were times I saw her number come up on my caller ID and I let the call go to voice mail, mostly because I knew that if I answered, I’d be on the phone for several hours as we discussed everything from the current occupant of the white house to what she heard on one of her radio programs to the status of her beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Before the election of 2000, she and I had a number of discussions about George W. Bush. I didn’t like him; I didn’t trust his eyes. I thought he was a weasel. She liked him, and I didn’t push my opinion. At that point, she was in her early 80s and I thought she’d earned the right to hers. Plus, I just didn’t have the strength to argue about how awful I thought Bush would be for the country. It wouldn’t have mattered; I couldn’t possibly have changed her mind. Several years later, after the Iraq war debacle and torture and countless other atrocities, she and I were having a discussion on a Sunday. 

“You were right about that Bush,” she said in her gruff tone. “He is a weasel.”

I couldn’t convince her but I give her all the credit in the world. She listened, she read, she was open to changing her mind when presented with factual information. 

She knew about the singer Pink and really liked that “John Jovi,” otherwise known as Jon Bon Jovi.

An avowed movie buff, she had no use for bad language, sex and violence. She preferred her old movies, especially anything with Clark Gable. She and I shared a love of Gone with the Wind. But she did love “that Russell Crowe.” 

In her house, the radio was always on and if it wasn’t, the TV was. She read the newspaper and numerous news magazines. She consumed the news and knew a little about a lot and a lot about a little. 

She didn’t love President Obama, mostly because he was a democrat but a little bit because he was black. There was an undercurrent of racism that ran through Pittsburgh and McKeesport in the way back, and it stayed with her. We almost had an argument once about black football players and how, to her, they only played football so that they could have the money. The white players played because they loved the game. 

Aunt Beryl died while Obama was still in office, and I know she liked and appreciated some of what he did, like getting Bin Laden. She didn’t like Michelle because she didn’t see the First Lady as worthy. She knew I was a huge fan of both Obamas and she respected that even if she didn’t agree.

I wonder, sometimes, what she’d think about what has happened in the country since Obama. I wonder what she’d think about a reality show second-rate star occupying an office that she revered. I suspect she would have voted for Trump; I also suspect she would now be appalled. Sometimes I wonder what she’d say but I can hear her voice. It’s saying “Oh, my.” I can see her shaking her head.

I wonder sometimes.

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