The fire list

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 2, 2017 8:44 PM

I got a call one morning when Justin was a sophomore in high school. It was about 3 am. Kevin was in Las Vegas for a convention. I answered and it was a recorded message from Tony Frank, the then superintendent of the Oak Park School District. “Due to the wild fires burning in Oak Park, the board has made the decision to cancel classes.”

Wild fire burning in Oak Park? I popped out of bed and, with Maguire in tow, trudged out the front door and into the street. Sure enough, the hills lining our beautiful town were rimmed with fire. I saw lights go on in some of my neighbors’ houses as they too got the call.

By sun rise, the sky was thick with smoke and ash drifted down like snow, covering cars and trees and flowers. I was never truly concerned about it reaching our house. We were safely ensconced in a neighborhood where each of the houses was mere feet away from the next. Fires like space. 

During fire season, I often watched the news in horror as flames devoured hillsides and canyons, racing along unchecked due to the terrain, eating any fuel in their path. I always felt for people who lived in areas where fire could get to them. My old bosses had 30 acres in Hidden Valley, an area of Thousand Oaks. Fire burned perilously close to their house at one point. When we flew to New York to see one of Justin’s productions, there was a fire burning in the canyons near the pet motel we used for the dog. I was emailing them from 35,000 feet, trying to get an answer as to whether there was any actual danger. There wasn’t. 

When we built the house up here on the hill, I wondered about fire. After all, we have four acres ourselves, and the land above us is undeveloped. It’s desert for miles. To the east is another lot that’s not developed and more land above that. There are canyons that cut into the land that can’t be developed but there are still trees and brush and desert grasses. We have fire insurance along with our homeowners. 

Most people hear of fires burning in Southern California because it’s such a famous area. When homes burn in Malibu it makes national news. But the entire southwest is susceptible to fire and often succumbs. In 2013, the Yarnell fire in Arizona burned 8400 acres, destroyed 129 buildings and killed 19 firefighters who got trapped in its path. In 2003, a fire burned in the mountains above us, destroying 84,750 acres and 340 homes and businesses. One of our neighbors here told us that they stood on their patio and watched as the flamed climbed up and over the hills above Catalina Highway. The fire department had told them that if the fire jumped the highway, they would need to evacuate. It didn’t; the firefighters were able to stop it. That fire burned for a month before it was fully contained. 

Yesterday when we left to run errands, I noticed smoke off to the east. Big, awful plumes reaching high into the sky, white with dark brown laced throughout. Fire. We watched it as we were out, the smoke visible for miles. Last night we watched it from the deck as we made a list of things we would have to pack in case of evacuation. We decided it was a good idea to have such a list even if we didn’t end up needing it because if the fire department tells you to get out, you have, at best, an hour. We would not be thinking clearly; we would be reacting. Having a check list would be helpful. 

But as I wrote the list, I thought how strange it was to be making it. And yet how necessary. Things like dog food, water, jewelry, photographs, artwork, my Carolers made the list. Things that are valuable, irreplaceable; that mean something to us. Computers, cameras, some of my writing notebooks. It was making a list in case of our impending destruction.

This morning, the fire had tripled in size and became Type 1 Incident Management meaning national and state resources were brought in. We watched as D10 Tankers flew close enough that we could read the tail numbers. The roar and rumble of a DC10 flying just about the house was both terrifying and comforting.

There were possible thunderstorms forecast for this afternoon. The winds were mild earlier and picked up throughout the day, as is usual. We had our list. We watched the sky. And celebrated the men and women who decide that this is their calling, to fight fire in hundred plus degree heat, with high winds, and dry conditions. Dogspeed all.

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I can’t deal with cleaning up. Let’s sell the house.

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 1, 2017 8:34 PM

My parents used to entertain every once in a while. I remember several times, like the surprise party mom threw for my dad’s 40th birthday. Friends from everywhere descended upon the house and when my dad answered the door, there was a group of his friends from his previous life even before he had us. I don’t remember the party all that well other than there was quite a group of people, eating and drinking the night away while my father beamed. After it was all over, I’m sure we had to clean up before going to bed because my mother always cleaned up before going to bed. It didn’t matter what time it was, if there was a mess in the kitchen, it had to be dealt with so that it was gone in the morning and she – and everyone – could start the day anew. 

For years, I subscribed to this same philosophy. It didn’t matter how late it was when people departed my home. When they were gone, I went to the kitchen to rinse plates and load them into the dishwasher, wash any pots and pans, as well as glassware from cocktails. On the rare occasion that I used my china, I also hand washed that. Leaving a pan to soak overnight because it was simply too crusted to clean immediately was my worst sin. 

Somewhere along the way to middle age, I stopped doing that. I don’t remember when it happened. Perhaps it was after Kevin and I got together. Our relationship has always been fun and easy; we’re each other’s best friend. I think because of the easy nature of our lives together, it occurred to me without ever really thinking about it that I could leave plates on the counters and used pots on the stove and go to bed. That it would all still be there in the morning, and that it would all clean up just as easily then.

Maybe it was because we became late eaters, rarely having dinner before 8:30, a practice that continues to this day. While not especially healthy, it has become habit. Also, we work until about 7 each night, then we shower. By the time I get around to cooking, it’s often close to 8. By the time we’re done eating, we just want to relax and maybe watch a little television. Soon, we’re tired. The dishes sit on the counter; any pots or pans remain on the stove.

Last night we had some people over for dinner. It was casual, just like we like it. I made an artichoke-jalapeno dip in my small crock pot, put out some pita chips and cheese and crackers. Kevin made cosmopolitans and poured wine. For dinner, I made a pasta primavera and a big Caesar salad and sliced some bread that I served with a pesto balsamic dipping sauce. About 9 o’clock we noticed there were fireworks in the distance so off we all went to the deck where we spent the rest of the evening. Everyone left somewhere around 11 I think. Not terribly late, but by then we were tired and simply went to bed, leaving the kitchen for another day.

This morning, I looked at the havoc I had wrought and all I could think of was Marilyn Lovell. 

The 1995 film Apollo 13 – one of favorites – begins with the famous moonwalk by Neil Armstrong. There is a party at the Houston home of astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife, Marilyn, played in the film by Tom Hanks and Kathleen Quinlan. All the astronauts who aren’t in space are there, including the men who would eventually join Lovell on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. There is much champagne and eating and something about Cadet Lovell getting a haircut. After everyone leaves, Jim is in the backyard, lying on a chase lounge gazing up at – what else – the moon. Marilyn comes out and says: “I can’t deal with cleaning up. Let’s sell the house.”

My thoughts this morning.

Friends, food, cocktails, fireworks. Worth the mess on a Saturday morning and definitely worth celebrating.

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The bathing suit dilemma

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 29, 2017 10:46 PM

When I was in college I had a gray striped bikini that I loved. That was back in the day when I was skinny and looked good in a bikini. I had it in a beach bag in the back of my Toyota Celica in my garage one night for reasons I can no longer remember. It got stolen, along with my beach bag and a small tool kit I kept in the car for emergencies. I remember thinking how disgusting it was that someone would steal a used bikini. Also, I was pissed. While I bought others, I was never able to replace that bikini. I remember it fondly to this day.

I used to like shopping for bathing suits. It was fun, and I was in great shape. Picking out a bathing suit wasn’t difficult. It was an enjoyable experience. 

I didn’t swim a lot but I did love the sun. Too much. I am paying for it now, all these years later. 

As I got older, I stopped loving the sun in terms of sunbathing. I still love it. Love its energy and its beauty; don’t love what it has done to and for my skin. Still one needs a bathing suit in order to partake in pool parties and go on vacation to tropical places like Hawaii.

I don’t have a good bathing suit. It’s been years since we went anywhere tropical or that required swimming or even just sitting in the water. Still, one needs to have one just in case. We’re already making plans for a trip next year to either Hawaii or Cabo San Lucas, where we’ll stay at a resort and sit under cabanas and swim up to aquabars; where we’ll stroll the beaches and soak up the warmth, if not the sun. I’ve been dreading the idea of finding a bathing suit. I thought I could put it off. I hoped. Today, I was confronted with the bathing suit dilemma body-on. 

Friends of ours have a home in San Carlos, Mexico. It’s not far from here, about 5 hours or so by car. When we’ve gotten together, we’ve talked about going down, joining them for a weekend, or renting one of their condos and going by ourselves. I got a text this morning from Susan: I have to go to SC next weekend to deliver some parts for the boat. Wanna come?

Just the girls. No husbands. No dogs (they have two; we have one). 

Naturally I said yes, of course, fabulous, love it, can’t wait. Except for that one tiny issue. I DON’T HAVE A DECENT BATHING SUIT. 

I immediately dialed up the internet and started looking at what the styles are today, what might look good on me, on a body that’s much different than the one that easily wore the bikini that got stolen out of her 1979 Toyota Celica.

Evidently something called tankinis are very in. Two pieces that have a tank type top and different types of bottoms including swim shorts. I was intrigued. They seemed perfect for this old body of mine.

So I ordered two. Both will be here by mid-next week. In time for my weekend trip to Mexico. Hopefully one will work. If not, I’ll be wearing shorts and a tank, and hoping for the best. Either way, I’ll be in Mexico, on a boat, having fun. And that’s a good thing.

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The four elements of the apocalypse, desert edition

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 27, 2017 8:22 PM

Kevin went to the doctor today. He has a great relationship with his physician, a man who, coincidentally, happens to live in our little ‘hood. He’s a DO, a doctor of osteopathic medicine which means he advocates a whole-person approach to care. He’s a good guy, and I might have chosen him myself except for two things: it’s a little odd to see your doctor every day as well as at homeowner’s association meetings, and I also prefer female doctors, for all specialties.

It’s been hot here, the June-furnace has been blasting now for several weeks. We get this every year right before the monsoons hit. It’s been brutal. Last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we recorded 120º up here on the hill, a temperature I feel pretty good touting because it comes directly from our own personal weather station. It’s also been windy, a continuous hot breath that offers a grand total of zero relief. Mostly we stay in the house. We urge Riley to pee quickly when he has to go out. 

With the heat comes fire, plague and pestilence. We’ve had brush fires burn, thankfully none close enough to threaten us, just close enough to smell and see the smoke. We haven’t had plague or pestilence, also thankfully because that would be bad. We have, however, had our fair share of creatures and by creatures, I mean bugs. We have been over-run with box elders, tiny flying beetles. They’re outside, but they’re disgusting. We’ve seen snakes. There have been toads. Also the lizards have been prolific. 

Kevin’s doctor, who lives in the house just below us, swims every morning before he leaves for work. He was entertaining Kevin with tales of not going into the pool because it was occupied by a toad, and that he draws the line at sharing his pool with creatures. He has had box elders and toads sticking to his windows. He has had pack rats eating the wiring to his lighting and poor equipment, and ground squirrels and rabbits oh my. Scorpions and lizards and cicadas. 

“Basically half of everything ever talked about in the bible,” he joked. 

Kevin laughed. When he told me the story, I laughed, too. Because it’s funny. It also happens to ring a little too true.

The start of this summer has been hotter than usual, drier and windier. That heat has brought out the bugs in droves. Bugs that cling to the side of the house, that climb the windows, that die and congregate in piles of black carcasses on the portico and the deck. They look, at first glance, like raisins, only infinitely less appetizing. 

Toads, bigger than usual, descend upon the house at night. They haunt the top step leading down to the front door, sitting there until the dog sees them and begins to whine and squeal. Let me at ‘em. As if that’s going to happen. These toads are poisonous to dogs.

The heat speaks for itself. The winds are wicked and wild. 

There is no water, no rain in the forecast. Only sun as far as the weather report can see. It is biblical. This is how polite society ends, pulling its hair out because it can’t get rid of the annoying bugs, having to co-exist with Colorado river toads, and never being allowed outside because of spontaneous combustion, with your ashes blown away by 20 mph winds with gusts up to 50.

Welcome to the apocalypse, desert edition. It’s about as religious as I get, and while I’m not into the bugs or the toads or the heat or the wind, I am very much into the storms that follow. May they come soon and wash away our sins.

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Red Rover, Red Rover … uh, red Rover?

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 25, 2017 8:20 PM

Kevin has a 1992 Range Rover Classic. Along with his Gold Wing, it’s his mechanical pride and joy. We bought it in July of 2016 after months of searching. He needed a truck, but didn’t want a traditional pick-up. He wanted something that was enclosed so that if he had to haul things a long way, those things wouldn’t be subjected to the harsh elements of the Sonoran desert. That meant an SUV but one that was big enough. He also tends to like classics. Yes, they’re more temperamental in some ways, but in others, they’re also easier to fix since they’re not completely governed by electronics.

Before we got married, he had a 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser. It looked like an SUV but at the time, which was before the rush of sport utility vehicles, it was classified as a station wagon. He had always loved the look. Big, boxy, square. The interior was fairly utilitarian but it was comfortable. It was also in phenomenal shape. He put brush guards on the front and it was a head turner. It also had leaf spring shocks making it a very rough ride. I got to the point where I didn’t particularly enjoy riding in it. That’s when we bought our first Land Rover, a Discovery Series II. In Land Rover forums and when buying parts at places like Atlantic British, people call them Discos. 

My current vehicle is my second Land Rover Range Rover, this time a Sport. The first Range Rover we had was a fabulous car. Truck, the mechanics called it. Not like a truck I’d ever ridden in. It had heated seats, dual climate control, the ability to raise and lower the vehicle depending on what was needed. It rode on air shocks. It was red. Unfortunately, this particular model of Range Rover, designated a P38 by Land Rover, had a fatal engine sleeve flaw. Eventually we had a choice to make: rebuild the engine, or buy a new car. That was in 2012. 

I loved my first Range Rover. It was big, comfortable, flawless on the exterior and interior, and had a bitchin’ sound system to boot. When we had to get rid of it, I was not happy. We had fallen in love with the Range Rover Sport when they first came out in 2005, so we decided to get one. Kevin: “Don’t you even want to look at something else?” Me: “No.” 

Not only did we not look at something else, we bought another red one.

There is a review about the Range Rover that basically describes it as a limousine that can climb a tree That’s fairly accurate. They’re built for off-roading, for traversing mountains and streams. My beloved Sport does none of those things. I’m a typical limousine SUV owner. I love the bigness, love the luxury. Use very few of the off-road capabilities. I baby this car. I don’t like it used to haul things. 

So when we moved and Kevin decided he needed a truck, we looked at old Land Cruisers again, and settled on an old Range Rover, the models before the P38. We looked here in Arizona, even driving up to the norther part of the state to test drive a couple. Our budget was $5000. The trucks we test drove were in appalling shape. Then we found one on Craig’s List in Chino Hills. It was a 1992, with 188,000 miles on it. For $3500. Also, it was red. We talked to the guy, looked at the pics, and decided that it just might be perfect. Kevin flew to Ontario, Ubered to the guy’s house, test drove it, bought it for $3000, and drove it home that night. 

He loves it. I love it. We both love that it can haul whatever he needs to haul, without having to employ the use of my beloved Sport. They’re both beautiful trucks.

This morning, we were outside, with two of the garage doors open. I started to laugh. Red Rover in stall three; Red Rover in stall one. And there in the center, the most beautiful red “rover” we have, our beloved Riley Boo. And he’s always worth celebrating.

Dust

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 24, 2017 10:27 PM

In places like Sudan and Phoenix – which this week have been scarily similar in temperature readings – violent, oppressive winds whip up giant walls of dust. In Arizona, these walls are created from the winds that rush out of a collapsing thunderstorm, with the cold air that’s in front of the storm rushing down at such an incredible rate that it picks up massive amounts of dust and sand. Eventually, as it builds, these walls – which can grow as high as 3000 feet and stretch as far as 100 miles wide – will completely block the sun. On July 5, 2011, Phoenix recorded a dust storm over 5000 feet tall. We call them haboobs, from the Arabic word for “blown.”

When this dust settles, which it does eventually, it wreaks havoc on the air in general, and people and pets in particular.

We have never experienced a haboob and don’t want to. I’ve seen video and heard horror stories about what you’re supposed to do if you’re driving, how to shelter in place, blah blah blah dust. 

One of the first places we went when we moved to Tucson, before we’d even started building the house, was a wine tasting place called Wine Depot. It was an interesting establishment that served Old World wines from Germany, France and Spain. We were desperate for a place to go, having been so spoiled in California. We went on a Saturday, late afternoon. It was hot, and there weren’t many people there. The owner, who was German and his wife, who was Mexican, were both pouring wine. Soon enough, we were the only ones there and so we fell into conversation with the wife. 

We told her we had just moved to the desert, what our plans were. She asked where we were living and where we were building. She said to be prepared for the dust. The dust? we asked. It’s constant, she said shaking her head. You cannot escape it. 

She went on to tell us that if we had a dog, we needed to be careful it didn’t get mixed up with a Gila monster because, while not poisonous, they will bite and latch on, lock their jaws, and not let go. She told us of having to rush her dog to the vet with a Gila monster hanging off its neck. We laughed nervously. 

We haven’t experience the Gila-latch, but we have experienced the dust. Have we ever. It’s impossible to remove; impossible to get ahead of. You can dust using a rag and spray, and it doesn’t seem to matter.

Even the dust has dust. 

I dusted today. As I did, more appeared right behind where I had wiped my cloth. Miscellaneous and errant dog hairs also took up residence. It’s prolific, the dust, all-consuming. It makes the house look dirty even when, technically, it isn’t because I just dusted the other day. Thank dog I don’t have a lot of stuff. It would be impossible to keep it all clean. I’d no sooner get done dusting than I’d have to start all over. It would be an endless loop, a hopeless cycle, a horrible way to spend my days, the stuff of Stephen King novels. 

Kevin has the same issue with bugs. We’ve been inundated with box elders. Thousands of them cling to the house and the deck, dying slowly from the “kool-aid” that Orkin pours along the perimeter. Each day, he takes the power blower and blows them away. And as he walks away, ten more appear behind him.

Dust. Bugs. Haboobs.

Life in the desert in June.

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Ignorance is bliss

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 21, 2017 8:42 PM

Ben Franklin said: "We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid." This brilliance is something I think about nearly every day as I click through the news. I am forever amazed at how uninformed and willfully uneducated so many people remain, even in this age of instant information literally in your hand. I get push notices on my phone; breaking news alerts as they happen. I have my fitness tracker set up to also deliver whatever alerts my phone has received. They are tied together by Bluetooth.

The internet itself is a bastion of information. It matters not whether you lean left, right or stand fairly straight in the middle. It’s easy to find information about what you’re looking for. It’s easy to educate yourself. Main stream news happens to be my preference because I don’t always want dogma and the left slant. I know how I feel; I know which way my emotions and loyalties tilt. What I want is reporting, news. I crave the facts. Opinions are fine and I read those, too, but I don’t only read people who agree with me. I try to also sneak into enemy territory in order to get a glimpse into how they’re thinking and feeling. Sometimes I get a lot of good information there, too. I don’t always agree with it, but I can appreciate its clarity of thought. 

As Jack Ryan said in The Hunt for Red October, in Russian – “It is wise to study the ways of one’s adversary.” –and Captain Ramius answered, in English – “It is.” –  it’s important to know both sides in order to have a well-rounded opinion of your own. And to have the facts. Ben Franklin’s quote above offers incredible wisdom about the dumb and ill-informed. It also offers great truth. 

The Republicans have crafted a health care bill in total secret that will repeal Obamacare. This bothers me greatly, and not just because of the ripe hypocrisy of it all. It will directly affect me; ultimately it will affect everyone but the ridiculously rich. And most people refuse to see it. Ask people who will lose their Medicaid, whose premiums will skyrocket to nearly half of their yearly income, how they feel and they’ll say they’re worried. In the next breath, they say that the president will never do that. 

Meanwhile, he’s sitting behind his tiny desk with pen poised to wipe out millions of people with his seismographic signature. 

These, of course, are the same people who when interviewed on the street say they’re very much opposed to Obamacare but they like the benefits they receive from the Affordable Care Act.

That sound you hear is me, hitting my head against anything that is hard. It beggars belief that we are this ignorant as a country, that we are this purposefully uneducated about the things that will ultimately affect our lives. 

I have been busy writing to and calling my representative and my senators. I do not hold out much hope because their ideology clashes so completely with my own. They simply believe it’s not the government’s job to help those who can’t completely help themselves. To which I answer, then whose job is it?

I think, I feel, I help, I learn. Constantly. My question to others then, to quote President Andrew Shepherd in The American President, is: “Why don’t you, Bob?” Or Mitch, or John, or Rob, or Susan, or Lisa, or Jeff, or Dean, or [fill in another name here]. 

The day draws to a close, taking with it the exhausting heat we’ve been experiencing in the west. Tomorrow comes the release of this new bill. Tomorrow comes the further exploitation of the ignorant. Justin wants to somehow force people to become educated and I can’t seem to convince him that it’s not possible. But I admire his passion. I admire his hope. Because as Benjamin Franklin also said: “The doors of wisdom are never shut.” And that possibility is worth celebrating.

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The Middle

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 20, 2017 8:50 PM

At any given time, the number of women in this country who are on a diet is somewhere around 50%. That’s according to the Judy Mahle Lutter book “The Bodywise Woman.” Others have estimated it to be half that much. Regardless, when you consider that there are some 126 million women, that’s a bunch. Up to 90% of teenagers diet regularly and even 50% of younger kids have tried a diet at some point. The numbers aren’t that hard to believe when you realize that, according the Marketdata, Americans spend somewhere between $46.3 billion and $100 billion each year on weight loss products. It’s probably because the Centers for Disease Control have told us that 62% of us are overweight or obese. Another 9 million kids are suffering from that particular malady as well.

I bring all of this up because I have no idea now to diet. I was a fat baby but after that, I was pretty slim. I went through high school thin, though never skinny. I had a brief flirtation with what it was like to gain wait when I was in college, which I blamed on dining hall food. That quickly got under control when I moved into an apartment and started working at a restaurant known for its pizza. I also catered for a restaurant known for its clambakes on the beach. I lived on pizza, lobster and alcohol, and was in great shape. I was also 21.

Another flirtation with minimal weight gain happened in my mid 20s. I’m not sure what was behind it but I remember feeling a little thicker than usual during one trip north to wine country. It didn’t last long, and I was fairly quickly back to normal. I was always able to eat and drink what I wanted without consequence. My blood pressure has been low, my cholesterol fine. I exercised a lot when I was younger. Everything worked well.

Then I turned 50. Suddenly nothing worked at all, including my ability to not gain weight and gain weight I have. Not a ton, but enough that it bugs me. Nothing fits me as well as it used to. I feel thick and dumpy. 

The problem I’m really having though is that because I never had a weight problem, I never learned how to diet. I don’t know how to navigate these new heavier waters. It’s foreign to me, and GPS is not working at all. And the fact is, I’m not actually a believer in diets. I think most people are too harsh on what they allow themselves to eat, and so they drop weight but then, because they’ve deprived themselves, they end up falling off their diet and gaining everything back plus. 

Moderation, it seems, is key. It worked for me in the past when I felt a little off. Cut back a bit and everything was/is fine. 

But did I mention about turning 50? Now the cutting back a bit doesn’t seem to work very well. I blame metabolism. I blame menopause. I blame age-rot. I blame the middle. As in my middle. 

The point is, I’m trying to diet in my own way, cutting back on what I eat, especially when it comes to carbs. And I love carbs. Oh, how I love carbohydrates. Pasta, bread, potatoes. Chips. I love to eat; I love to drink wine. But the middle can no longer be ignored. So this week, Kevin and I have decided – not to diet – but to eat healthier. Cut back on carbs. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Drink more water. 

We’re both determined to do something about our middles. 

Yesterday and today I made us smoothies in the morning. I poured orange juice into the blender, then added yogurt (strawberry yesterday, blueberry today), and fresh fruit (strawberries, bananas, blueberries). Blended. Poured. Tasty. For lunch today, I made salads. I always put raisins on my salads. I like the hint of sweet with the tang of salad dressing.

Then I saw on HealthPlus50 that three of the worst culprits for an expanding middle are … yogurt, raisins and orange juice. Still, I have to believe that yogurt, raisins and orange juice are still better that toast, bagels, or poptarts.

mmmmm. Poptarts. I think they come in blueberry, a perfect complement to my smoothies.

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Simmering

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 18, 2017 10:27 PM

As a rule, heat doesn’t bother me. Unlike Bobbi, who despises hot more than anything, I prefer it to the alternative. Bobbi prefers cold. They keep their AC set in the 60s if memory serves. Poor Roy walks around in a parka. 

Southern California gets hot, especially in the San Fernando Valley. I remember days driving from Pasadena/Glendale, west toward either Calabasas (where we lived first) and later on, toward Oak Park. Both were out of the Valley but Calabasas was closer. Calabasas actually starts in the Valley and then rolls up and over the appropriately named Calabasas Grade. Woodland Hills comes right before Calabasas. Both are tucked up against the hill, so the heat gets stuck there. Does it ever. It wasn’t uncommon in the summer, under the late afternoon sun and hanging smog to see the temperature gauge on the car climb into the low 100s. I think the highest I ever saw it was 116º but I didn’t really believe it. I figured it was the heat of the asphalt and car engines that drove it up. 

Still, it was smoldering. 

It was hot. We like the heat. So naturally we moved into the inferno known as the Sonoran desert. It’s a fascinating place, where it freezes in the winter – and sometimes snows – and boils in the summer. We’re not in summer yet, technically. Evidently someone forgot to tell that to the weather gods, however. It was 113º here today up on the hill. Absolutely smothering, smoldering, sizzling heat. The kind of heat where you really can’t go out. The kind of heat that, when you take the dog out to pee, you become very impatient. No sniffing; no dawdling. Just pee and get the hell in the house. 

Several weeks ago, we bought an air conditioner for the garage. A portable one, with a big hose that can vent out one of the high windows. In order for it to reach said window, it has to be raised. Kevin has it sitting on one of his saw tables. This morning, I turned it on early. We did some planting down at the bottom of the road, then came back up the hill. We left the Classic outside in the driveway to bake and keep the garage cool. We had breakfast. We talked to Kevin’s brother and sister-in-law, we read the paper, we cleaned up the kitchen. And then he went out to do some garage clean-up. Our little AC unit kept the area decent. Not quite cool because it’s simply too big of an area and too small of a unit, but it wasn’t horrible. Especially given the outside temps. At one point, when I took Riley out to pee in his designated area which is out the man-door off the back of the garage, and then came back in, I was amazed at how much cooler it was in the garage. 

This afternoon as the sun was drifting down to the west, alighting the smoke of a fire that’s burning somewhere far away from us, we took stock of the weekend. We watched the desert fade into dusk and marveled as it flattened out.

The only word I could think to describe the day was simmering. Something cooking slowly. And yet still beautiful, even in its infinite harshness. Worth celebrating.  

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The power that isn’t

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 15, 2017 9:08 PM

If ever there was a metaphor for how I’ve been feeling lately, it’s this: today, we were without power. This happens occasionally, though not as often as you’d think given the strain on the power grid during the summer months. And it is definitely summer even though technically it doesn’t officially become summer for six more days. In mid-June in Southern Arizona summer simmers. Last year at this time we were in California, wine tasting. We drove home on Father’s Day during excessive heat warnings. As we went through Palm Springs, the temperature on the car and on my iPhone both topped out at 121º. One hundred. Twenty. One. Degrees.

Today, the mercury was hovering around 112º when suddenly the screen on my computer dimmed. I wondered what was going on. Since I work on a lap top, when the power goes out, my computer battery automatically takes over. It’s a seamless transition. It took just seconds for me to realize that the tiny green light on my power cord was off. Then I heard the microwave beep, the clocks in the bedroom fizzed, the overhead fan clicked and slowed. Finally, the internet said ‘see ya, bye.”

Fully knowing the answer I shouted the question anyway: “Did we just lose power?”

Kevin was already on his way across the house. I heard him say “yup. Gotta number for TEP?”

One of the great ironies of us having solar panels on our house, panels that capture more than enough energy to power our house, is that our solar inverters run on electricity. The second great irony is that in order to use the solar power we create, it has to first go to the electric company in order to be converted. 

So plenty of solar, no way to capture it, and the house slowly began to melt into the desert. Welcome to Thursday afternoon.

Power runs our lives all the time but during the blistering summer months it also keeps us alive. We wouldn’t have died without power for a couple of hours, even through tomorrow, but it would have become uncomfortable. We also have no water pressure. In order to maintain water pressure, we have a pump that works fabulously. As long as there’s power. 

Power is needed to cook and clean, to open and close the garage doors, to run the ceiling fans. It is desperately needed for air conditioning and water, for music and television, for the internet. It is necessary to light the night, to keep our phones and computers charged, to run our smoke detectors and our alarm system (though both do have battery backups). When you’re powerless, it’s an odd sensation. You don’t quite know what to do, how to act. You feel out of sorts, almost confused. You feel as if you have absolutely no control.

Mostly how I’ve been feeling since November 8, and definitely since January 20.

After about an hour, our power whirred back to life. The microwave beeped again, the light lit on my power connection, the overhead fan began to spin lazily. If only it were so easy to regain power as a citizen. If only it took just an hour.

Something to think about and hope for as we power forward.

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