Things I've learned

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 13, 2012 11:01 PM

On this mother’s day, I’m celebrating some of what I’ve learned as a daughter, as a mother and as a friend, in no particular order. These are the things that make me who I am, that make me happy, that make me sad, that make me alive. I know there are more things I’ve learned; I know that in many ways I’ve just begun to learn. Every day is an adventure and a new opportunity, a new lesson, a new joy and sometimes sorrow. But it’s all part of life and love. So here are some of the things that come to mind as I sit here at the kitchen table on this Sunday.

To never run with scissors, and when handing scissors or knives to another, to do so with the pointy end facing in, not out.

To treat people with respect and to follow the golden rule. I’m not religious but do unto others as you would have others do unto you seems like a no-brainer.

To not swim immediately after eating because I might get a cramp, something thoroughly debunked but old habits stick.

That money doesn’t grow on trees and that leaving the door open in the middle of winter evidently provides warmth for those outside. That I wasn’t, in fact, born in a barn.

How to properly set a table for a dinner party, and to truly enjoy the effect.

How to make meatballs and tomato sauce; how to make a pan of lasagna. How to eat at a restaurant and re-invent the meal at home by knowing what certain spices taste like.

That cheap red wine gives you a headache, and that a car with a great stereo system playing great music sounds great even and especially with the sunroof open.

That people really shouldn’t get married until they’re in their 30s because none of us really become the people we are meant to be until we leave our 20s behind.

That raising a child takes more than simply giving birth to him; that loving and caring and supporting and nurturing and teaching has nothing to do with biology. That when you live with people long enough, they start to look a like.

That dog is my co-pilot.

To always keep the car’s gas tank as close to half as possible, as often as possible, just in case.

That The West Wing is still one of the best television shows to ever air.

That turkey bacon is almost as good as regular and better for you, especially when served with a lovely omelet stuffed with mushrooms, broccoli, and three different types of cheese.

To take care of my knees and hips, and that you should always have a big supply of Motrin, just in case.

That red wine goes with just about everything but pancakes.

That good sneakers are essential for good footwork.

To call my mother as often as possible and to accept that sometimes she really does know best. But not always.

That love actually makes the world go round and that politics is the opposite of love.

That hypocrites abound but to cut them a little slack for they know not how ignorant they are.

That sisters rock and best girlfriends are required, and that dogs are the greatest creatures to walk the planet.

That I miss my dog every single minute of every single day, even when I’m sleeping, but I also know that he had a good life with us, a long life, and a happy life. Still…

To err on the side of positive rather than negative; to believe that everything happens for a reason even if the reason doesn’t readily present itself; that everything happens when it’s supposed to; and that gut instincts should always be trusted.

That I am mostly happy and sometimes sad and often stressed and that all of those things and more are what it means to be alive and living it out loud every day.

That there is always something worth celebrating, even on the darkest of days.

That I love and am loved, and that on this Sunday, this mother’s day, this May 13, is the start of something very possible and even probable: another day and another chance to enjoy this life. Cheers.

Mom's acorn stew

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 12, 2012 11:47 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The squire here. Seeing as how it’s really close to mother’s day, I thought I’d talk a little about my own mom. She’s really cool and probably one of the best squirrel’s I know. I never knew my dad much. Mom said he got hit by a car before I was born but she used to talk about him a lot and tell me stories about how he was one of the bravest squirrels around, crossing busy roads to get acorns and other stuff. He built a really good nest and he took really good care of mom. She missed him. She used to say that I reminded her of him.

I was thinking about that today when I was in the tree. It was a super nice day here. Not hot at all. The breeze was making the leaves tickle me. I like it when leaves tickle me. It makes me think back to when I was just a little squirrel hanging in the tree with my big brother. He lives in a big oak tree in Old Agoura now. He has a bunch of baby squirrels of his own.

Me, as a baby. 

Mom moved to Santa Barbara a few years ago cause she likes it where it’s a little cooler. She’s pretty gray now. I think that means she’s old. I miss her because I don’t get to see her very much but every time I gather up a bunch of acorns and pine needles to take home to Mrs. Squirrel I think of mom because she always made the best acorn stew. She used to cut the nuts up just perfect and soak them in a rain puddle for about three sunrises. Then, when they were nice and soft, she’d mix them up with some rose petals, bee pollen, and leaves, then top it off with just a sprinkle of pine needles. She said it was the OP pine that gave it the best flavor. I need to get that recipe so me and Mrs. Squirrel can make us some stew.

So there I was thinking about my mom who lives so far away and who would really like some grand-squirrels, and it got me to wondering. Sometimes when the sun is warm but not hot and the breeze is tickling, I get to thinking about stuff. It was a lazy kind of afternoon, kind of quiet. She was in the house and I could see her doing something with a pair of His shorts. I think she was putting a button back on. She had music on. It was pretty good, with guitars and pianos and stuff but it was nice. Perfect for our lazy kind of day. Then the mail came, and you know how much she likes the mail. She opened something that looked like a card and there was a picture in it. She smiled really bright, like the sun was shining from inside, and I twisted my head so I could see what it was. It looked like it was three ladies. Two of them looked kind of familiar. They were here just a few weeks ago. The other lady was a little older but looked kind of like the other two, and Her. Oh! That’s HER mom.

Me, hanging in the tree today.

I smiled but I was a little sad too. This is the first mother’s day without the big dog and I know She’ll be sad. And that red-headed guy, he’s not here either. He was here a while ago, but he’s not here very often at all. So she’s kind of alone on this mother’s day.

He’s here, though, and I know he went out to the store to get some cards and stuff. I saw him leave on the motorcycle saying “I have some stuff I need to get. Do you need anything at the store?” That’s how I knew he went to the store.

I didn’t send my mom a card because it’s really, really, really hard for me to get to the store. Ever since I was little and she told me those stories about my dad getting squished, I’ve tried not to cross too many busy streets. It’s scary enough around here with all the kids and bikes and skateboards. But hopefully mom will read this post and know that I’m thinking of her.

Maybe I can convince Mrs. Squirrel to try some of that acorn stew, just like mom used to make. I like acorn stew.

Mom with me and my brother. That's me, on the bottom.

So happy mother’s day, mom, from your littlest pup. And happy mother’s day to Her, and to all the mothers out there whose pups are with them and whose pups are far, far away. Hope you can have stew, too, cause stew is really, really good.

Did I mention it was good?

Tennis anyone?

by Lorin Michel Friday, May 11, 2012 9:54 PM

I loved tennis when I was a kid. For my 9th birthday, I got a wooden tennis racket. It was made by Wilson and had Chris Evert’s signature on it. She was my favorite player, probably for two reasons: she was good, and she was only 16. She was really just getting started at that point but I watched every tournament I could. My interest in the sport had begun because my dad played tennis, and for some reason, I was very competitive with my dad. I started playing and it was my goal from the beginning, when I was in third grade, to be able to beat him. I have no idea why. But he and I would play sometimes on the weekend. One Sunday afternoon, when I was in 7th or 8th grade, my mom dropped he and I off at a community court while she went off with my brother and sister. Dad and I batted the ball around quite a bit and I was getting very aggressive. I think he got kind of a kick out of it. I would slam a forearm shot over the net, putting enough spin on it that it landed in the corner, spinning out and away, and secretly do a little dance when it was beyond his reach.

Childish, I know.

On this Sunday, after I’d finished my little dance, he lobbed a ball to me – I suspect that he treated me with kid gloves since I was still a kid and he was a man of 6’ 2”, 200+ pounds – and I went up to slam an overhead. Which I did. Unfortunately, I misjudged the landing. I came down, tangled up my feet and fell. I put out my left hand to break my fall. I broke my wrist instead.

So much for my competitive drive. I was sidelined for months.

We moved to Maryland right before my freshman year of high school, a horrible thing to do to an introverted teenager. But I eventually made friends with Pam, and we started playing tennis. We played tennis all the time. Three or four times a week, hours at a time. We were fairly evenly matched and we loved it. We’d smack the ball around, then go to Jack in the Box for breakfast. Healthy. I bought my first real tennis racket that year, an aluminum Head racket. I bought the frame only, with a 4 ½” grip, and had it strung; none of those pre-strung rackets for me.

I loved that racket. It was my pride and joy. My Aunt Barbara bought me a custom cover for it, with my initials embroidered across the front. I felt mature, I felt powerful. I felt like an athlete. I still watched tennis as often as it was on. By now, Martina Navratilova had entered the game, and she and my Chrissy (mine) battled for nearly every championship. I remained firmly in Evert’s camp and tried to despise Navratilova. She was big and bold and brassy and the most powerful woman I had ever seen in my still young life. I had to respect her; she was at least as good as Evert or they wouldn’t have met a record 80 times between 1973 and 1988. When it was all over, Evert had won 18 Grand Slams and 157 titles, with a 90% win ratio. Navratilova also won 18 Grand Slams, but 167 titles and had a win ratio of 86.8 percent. She remains that greatest female tennis player to ever play the game (at least up until now); Evert is the number three player of all time. Steffi Graf is edged between the two for titles won, but she did it in far less time. 

When I left Maryland and my tennis partner Pam just a year after having moved there, I was devastated. I hated my parents, hated the world. I missed my friend, and I missed tennis. I tried to keep playing but it was never the same. Over the years, I’d occasionally find myself on a court, still armed with my Head racket. I played in college; a bit once I moved out to California. Kevin and I dabbled years ago and really got to enjoy it. I still had my old Head racket, of course, but now it seemed old. The head of it was small and round, the way tennis rackets were made for years. The new shape gave a larger head, more oblong. On the court with my old racket, I looked too nostalgic. We bought new rackets. Kevin chose a titanium Wilson; I chose another Head, also titanium. We played a lot. But then he was injured in a home improvement project and we never really got back into it.

Evert-Navratilova or Lorin-Pam?

Until this past Tuesday night. Last weekend on a walk, we were talking about my sister’s family and how they were going to join a club for the summer so the kids could swim which led me to recall my family belonging to a swim and tennis club when I was kid which led to talking about tennis and how much I loved it when Pam and I were the Evert-Navratilova of Columbia, Maryland (I won’t say who was who). We came back to the house, found the rackets that had been carefully preserved in the cabinet above the Porsche. There were even two unopened cans of tennis balls. On Tuesday, we played for the first time. Today, we played again.

We’re older now and after two tournaments, we’re nursing multiple pulled and strained muscles, blisters and various other aches and pains. And we’re loving it. Forty years after I fell in love with the sport, and decided to become competitive with my father, I am back in love and have forged a new competition with my husband.

My old Head racket is now leaning in the corner, still under the cover that my aunt gave me. It’s still tough as nails, the strings still fairly tight. Maybe one of these days I’ll take it with me and give it a swing for old-times sake. Maybe I can recapture the power and strength of my youth.

Maybe I’ll just keep celebrating the fact that I can still play tennis, and keep living it out loud.

In which I try to find something rich about the fact that I’m feeling poor

by Lorin Michel Friday, May 11, 2012 1:09 AM

There are many joys to working for myself. I get to rise in the morning at any time I please, I get to take days off as often as I want without ever having to ask anyone, I get to work in shorts and t-shirts in the summer, sweats and sweatshirts in the winter. Before I go any further, allow me to thoroughly debunk the first two items I mentioned. Yes, I get to rise any time I want, but every morning is dictated by client needs and work that needs to be done. I get to rise around 7 to start work at 7:30 or 8 am. I get to take very few days off other than Saturdays and Sundays and even sometimes I don’t get to take those. When I take days off, I’m not working and when I’m not working, I’m not making any money, and when I’m not making any money, I’m … not making any money. The part about wearing what I want is true.

I love my commute. Out the bedroom door, a slight detour toward the kitchen to obtain a cup of coffee, and then up 12 stairs, a sharp left at the landing and up two more steps and left into my loft. With gas prices still over $4.40 a gallon (for the good stuff), this is a good thing. I’m not polluting the air, and I’m not putting excessive miles on my car.

I love working for a number of people. I have wonderful clients who are truly lovely to talk with. Many I’ve never met. With the advent of the Internet, almost everything can be done electronically. A quick phone call to discuss what’s needed is all the meeting-time we need. It’s efficient for all concerned, and allows me to get to work on what’s required more quickly.

I love my home. I’m the definition of a homebody. If you look up the phrase in the dictionary – online, of course – there’s a picture of me. I usually prefer being home to being just about anywhere. It’s comfortable and comforting. It’s familiar. Homey.

So what’s my complaint? Well, the only one I really have and I don’t have it all the time, is that I don’t have a steady paycheck. When I had a “real” job – that is, when I had an outside office to go to every day from 9 until whenever – I also got a check every two weeks. Like clockwork. It was easy to count on. I always knew when there would be money in my account to pay bills or buy a new pair of boots or go out to dinner or meet friends for a drink. But now, I’m dependent on accounts payable. Most times this is not a problem. Again, I have wonderful clients, many of whom I’ve had for many, many years.  The work is steady, I send invoices once a month, and the checks are sent in a timely manner.

But I’m currently experiencing one of those thankfully rare times when I have invoiced and invoiced and invoiced but no checks are coming in. My checking account is down to vapors, the joint account I share with Kevin is equally vaporous after having paid the mortgage and the electric bill and the gas company and the insurance and the cell phone bill and the cable company and my business phone and bought groceries and put four new tires on the Range Rover after suffering a blowout on the freeway yesterday at 75 mph and and and and and and and and…

I’m feeling poor. I’m whining. I know this is temporary. I know that checks will arrive. They have to; the mailman is getting tired of me running out to greet him every day when he pulls up at the mailbox out front. I also know that I’m not actually poor, just temporarily penniless. Compared to many people in this country who are living in poverty, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I have a beautiful home in an equally beautiful and safe neighborhood. I’m rich in love. I’m wealthy in family and friends. I’m well-off in terms of education and work. In fact, I’m rich in work.

Being temporarily cash-poor has forced me to really look at my situation and that’s actually good. We find great ways to spend our time on without having to spend money. The other night we unearthed our tennis rackets and found a new, unopened can of tennis balls and off we went. Didn’t cost us anything. I have started reading some of the many books that have amassed in my bedroom, in my office, in the living room. Joyous. I have embraced the art of opening the pantry doors and creating a sumptuous meal from cardboard boxes and cans of garbanzo beans. Being rich doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have money, though money helps. Being rich means being happy, healthy and having family and friends, and yes, clients, who are good, honest, real people.

Yes, I’m a little poor right now, but my situation could change when I go to the mailbox tomorrow. A lot of people can’t say that. For that reason alone, I am grateful.

I am wealthy beyond anything I ever imagined. I am living it out loud. Just doing so without spending a lot of money these days.

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live out loud

Sock-nappers

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 9, 2012 11:16 PM

For years, scientists have attempted to answer one of the most important questions to face civilized society: where to socks go when they disappear from the laundry? Each year, millions of foot-clothing go missing. They go, often in pairs, into the wash, but somewhere between the wash cycle and the dryer one of them disappears. No one knows to where. Sometimes they reappear miraculously, because they got stuck in the sleeve of a long sleeve-t, or in the pant leg of ratty old sweatpants. I happen to know this is true because when I do laundry, a particularly unpleasant chore, and a sock goes missing, I know to check the aforementioned sock-nappers.

Oh, sure. The long sleeve t-shirt with the Hell’s Angeles emblem thinks it’s all big and bad, but let’s be real. When it goes into the washing machine it’s just like all the other items of clothing with it, and that includes underwear, and yes, socks. Still, in an obvious effort to exert its tough guy status, it steals a sock. I think that makes it a stereotype.

It took me a long time to come to the conclusion that there are sock-nappers under my own roof. For years, I lived in denial. I would search in vain for my little missing runner’s sock, the one I loved so much, with the gray and black stripes. I’d be fanatical trying to locate Kevin’s dark blue sock. I’d wonder if they’re run away together and were living a better life, or dog-forbid, a worse one. I’d look in the washing machine, running my hand along the bottom, under the agitator, hoping to find that it somehow got stuck. I’d stick my head into the still warm dryer, like it’s so big, thinking I had left it behind accidentally. I’d look on the floor, behind the washer and the dryer wondering if maybe it had mysteriously jumped over the ridge. Truth be told, I have found one or two back there over the years. I think when I unceremoniously dump the dirty clothes on the top of the washer, a sock jumps the side. Maybe it’s trying to get away. Maybe, like Maguire, if doesn’t like baths.

My sweatpants do the same thing, nap the socks. Many are the times I slip on my favorite ratty old sweats only to have more than my foot come out the other end. If my foot would only come out actually wearing the previously missing sock, I might be onto something. As it is, I usually just pick it up, find its mate and marry them up again with a nice fold over and tuck under.

A compilation of the Latin word soccus, the old English socc and the Middle English socke, socks are often knitted or woven and used to protect and cover the foot. They provide comfort, keep the foot from perspiring, and also keep the foot warm. In their earliest incarnations, socks were made from animal skins that were gathered and tied at the ankles. Ancients Greeks wore socks made from matted animal hair. Romans wrapped their feet with leather. Priests in the 5th century wore socks to symbolize purity. It wasn’t until the 15th century that socks were used for style and by 1589, when the loom was invented by William Lee, socks became more common because they could be produced more quickly. Then in 1938, came the invention of nylon and socks would never be the same.

No one seems to know when the great epidemic of sock-napping began but an attempt to find a cure is currently underway. General Electric, that mighty force of good in the world of electronics and appliances, has entered the fray by starting an organization called sockloss. L.O.S.S. stands for the laundered and orphaned sock society. Their mission is to research and determine the actual cause of the missing sock phenomenon, previously (and come on, currently) known as sock loss, effectively rendering a real and workable solution. They seem to think that a better washer and dryer might help.

Ha.

I say, just look in the arms and legs of your other freshly laundered clothes, and then do what should be done to all sock-nappers: wear them, along with your newly rediscovered socks. Evidently they go together better than you think.

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live out loud

The extraordinary gangsta horse with the incredibly aristocratic name

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 8, 2012 11:21 PM

He’s been in the news a lot lately and it made me remember the story from almost a year ago, a story of burning, death and other possibly life-threatening injuries. The fire started at about 12:30 am on May 31, 2011 in West Marlborough Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Flames shot to more than 40 feet high and soon engulfed the barn that stood at 248 Hood Road. Eleven horses were inside. Three people rushed to their rescue and were able to save five. Six horses died that night: Call Me Ollie, Charla, Ariel, Phantom Pursuit, Cagney Herself and Summer Breeze.

One horse escaped without serious injuries. Four others – Otis Barbotiere, Catch a Star, Ambassador’s Rose and Neville Bardos – were admitted to the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. The prognosis was poor, especially for the aristocratic beauty named Neville. He was the last horse rescued, pulled to safety by his trainer just before the building’s roof collapsed. His beautiful chestnut coat and white nose, black with soot and ash. His lungs equally so. Neville Bardos had burns on his face, an elevated heart rate, and suffered from severe smoke inhalation. His airway showed what the veterinarian team deemed significant thermal injury. He was burned on the inside and out.

Neville Bardos, in his barn

It wasn’t the first time Neville Bardos had flirted with death. Born in 1999 on one of Australia’s most prestigious racehorse facilities, he was from champion stock but failed to live up to expectations on the racetrack. He was sent to the slaughterhouse. That’s when Boyd Martin, a tattooed horse trainer known more for his drunken visits to tattoo parlors than for his horse-sense, stepped in. Just out of high school, he bought the horse for $850, named him after a gangster in an Australian movie, and decided to redirect the horse’s talents to eventing.

Eventing is an equestrian event also known as horse trials. Similar to a triathlon, it consists of dressage (horse ballet to show off a horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to perform), cross-country (an endurance test to show speed, and jumping ability over approximately four miles) and show-jumping (over verticals, spreads, and double and triple combinations) and takes place over the course of several days.

Neville Bardos stands at 16.1 hands, just over 5’ 4”. Not hugely tall. His first eventing, in 2002, was a disaster. He dumped his rider and it took 15 minutes to catch him. By 2006, he was winning. In 2008, Boyd Martin brought his prized horse to the US, and then May 31, 2011 happened. It was Martin who saved his horse.

Neville and Boyd

Neville Bardos was sent from the George D. Widener Hospital to Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center where he underwent daily hyperbaric oxygen therapy to speed the recovery to his lungs and skin. When he was released from the facility, all expected him to retire. Instead, he went on to win the United States Equestrian Federation’s Horse of the Year for 2011.

Now 13 years old, Neville Bardos – and his best mate, Boyd Martin – is still competing. Their new team goal is to ride in the next Olympics. The short list is announced on June 17th; the final team announced on July 2nd.

I’ve always been a bit on the fence about horses, not in understanding their power and majesty, not in being in absolute awe of their beauty when they run, or even when they simply stand, so statuesque. But on the fence when it comes to racing or in this case eventing. Horses were made to run; I get that. They’re built for speed. They’re agile. But even as I watch them compete and perform, marveling, I’m torn. I feel like I shouldn’t like it, that perhaps they’re not made for our enjoyment. At the same time, though, they seem to enjoy performing. And the majority of the people who train them, nurture and care for them, also seem to genuinely love them. Bonds develop; trust is formed. After all, Boyd Martin ran into a burning barn to save his horse.

So I hope the extraordinary horse with the aristocratic and British name from down under makes the team, and I hope he takes the gold at the London Olympics this summer. It would be fitting for this gorgeous animal that has cheated death twice, to receive the ultimate recognition and the medal that proves once and for all the true champion he was born to be.

Neville Bardos, gangsta horse. Living it out loud. 

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A distant utopia

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 7, 2012 12:51 AM

On Pearblossom Highway, just to the northeast of Los Angeles, there are rows of dead pear trees amidst mesquite bushes turning to tumbleweed. The desert wraps around this dangerous road, also known as Highway 138, engulfing the few residents that still live in the area. Each year, an area known as Blood Alley or Death Trap Highway, claims dozens of lives. The road winds through the desert, twisting up and around sharp turns that then level out to straight stretches of broken asphalt that lead to Interstate 15. Turn north and the oasis of Las Vegas eventually awaits.

Driving along, there are broken down homes, cars on blocks, dogs running wild. Jack rabbits and coyotes cross the road at their leisure. The sky is always dusty, the sun burns everything it touches even in the winter. It’s a desolate place, and evidently perfect for a utopian village called Llano del Rio.

When a lawyer named Job Harriman failed to become mayor of Los Angeles, governor of California and even Vice-President of the US (when he ran alongside Eugene Debs), he decided to create his own utopia. He chose a 10,000 acre parcel outside of Los Angeles, in the desert, to create his dream: a utopian community that could actually work within a capitalistic society. It was his determination that the land was fertile enough to support hundreds of people, even though it was in the Mojave desert. There was running water from the Big Rio Creek, and the soil, while sandy, was strong enough to support pear trees.

In May of 1914, people from all over the country began to arrive. All socialists, they were tiring of what they thought was government tyranny. They wanted a better life, a communal life, one where all worked together to sustain each other. They paid $2000 for admission, and within a year, the town was thriving. There were 900 residents with a local economy that was almost completely self-sustaining. They had a paint shop, agriculture, a poultry yard, a rabbitry, a print shop, a fish hatchery, peanut fields, a hotel, meeting hall and the largest Montessori-style school in California. They also had a sawmill, a soap factory, tannery and machine shop. The people participated in May Day celebrations, a theatrical society, book clubs and a choral group. Along with pears, they grew alfalfa, corn and grain. They lived happily and well for nearly three years.

By 1917, the political infighting among the community’s 60 committees coupled with the lack of water from Big Rio Creek – an earthquake fault diverted much of the water away from the town – meant crisis. The town’s people relocated to New Llano in Louisiana. By 1918, Llano del Rio in California was bankrupt and deserted.

But remnants remain. Drive along the highway now, and rock chimneys still reach toward the pale blue sky. Steps lead from the desert floor up to absolutely nothing. Pathways that are now overgrown chart the way between what were once homes, schools, businesses. Walls still stand, connected to nothing. It’s haunting, and unlike many ghost towns, surprisingly absent of any emotion.

There are many ghost towns here in the west. During the gold rush days of the 1800s, towns sprung up quickly whenever gold was discovered only, to be abandoned just as quickly when the gold proved to be fleeting. These towns are still standing, the homes shells of what they once were, but they’re mostly in tact. It’s not the harshness of the desert; many towns like Bodie, also in California, suffered from brutally hot summers and equally paralyzing winters. But Llano del Rio suffered differently. It’s a sad place, and like the deaths that occur on the highway, it too died violently.

Alice Constance Austin designed Llano del Rio in early 1910. It was circular in nature; the houses had a feminist design with kitchenless houses, communal daycare areas, built-in furniture and heated tile floors. She wanted to use an underground system of tunnels for laundry as well as for the transportation of supplies and goods, all with the hope that it would lead to less domestic housework, easier childcare, less road traffic and free women from traditional household duties. She succeeded, but the community didn’t. Perhaps the world wasn’t quite ready for such a distant utopia.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

                                 Percy Bysshe Shelley

On Pearblossom Highway, just outside of Los Angeles, the remnants of a dream remain, and nothing more. It’s sad and sadly beautiful. A tribute to people who once lived it out loud. 

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live out loud

The psychology of sneakers

by Lorin Michel Friday, May 4, 2012 9:46 PM

There are many modern conveniences that bring great comfort and in many cases joy. Comfort can come in the form of food, drink, people and pets, a good book or a really good bad movie that you’ve seen a dozen times. That’s when you need comfort because you’re feeling down. I know I’m a big fan of French fries, chocolate milkshakes and Under the Tuscan Sun when I need comfort food and a movie after a bad day.

But there are also those conveniences that bring both comfort and joy when you’re feeling good about life, celebrating it, living it out loud. Those can also come in the form of food, drink, pets and French fries. They also come in the form of sneakers.

Sneakers bring literal comfort. They’re built for comfort, built to wear every day all day. They’re like more rugged and more socially acceptable slippers. Sneakers have been around all of my life. They’ve been around all of my mother’s life, and her mother’s life and most of her mother’s life before her. They began as rubber-soled shoes called plimsolls crafted when nine small rubber manufacturing companies formed the U.S. Rubber Company in the 1800s. One of the nine was the Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company, established in the 1840s. They’re the ones who created the process known as vulcanization that uses heat to meld rubber to cloth or other components. Humphrey O’Sullivan received the first patent for a rubber-heeled shoe on January 24, 1899.

For 21 years, from 1892 to 1913, 30 different brands of rubber shoes were produced until the company decided to consolidate the footwear under one name. They chose something called Keds after having to dismiss Peds due to copyright infringement. Keds were the first mass-marketed canvas-top, rubber-sole shoes. Sneakers. This was the word coined by Henry Nelson McKinney, an advertising executive at N.W. Ayer & Son, because they were so quiet.

Sneakers quickly moved from being comfortable slip-ons to being shoes worn primarily in sports to being fashion statements. In sports, they make professional athletes and weekend warriors alike jump faster and run higher. They allow for the release of endorphins, a group of hormones that make us feel joyous or at least better. They make us feel strong and euphoric, if we’re doing it right. Endorphins are released during physical activity, the kind that often happens when wearing sneakers.

Sneakers allow us to sneak around. The myriad of colors and styles that are currently available allow us to show our personality, our own senses of style. They allow us to be in the moment, to have different types for different reasons, even for different seasons. Running shoes, walking shoes, hiking shoes, trail shoes, track shoes, tennis shoes, basketball shoes, skate shoes, slip-ons, ties, cleats. They’re canvas, leather, vinyl, plastic, or a combination thereof. With the exception of the cleats, they all fall into the sneaking category.

The shoes we choose say a lot about who we are and what we want to communicate to the world. We seek out different colors because they match our outfits, our cars, our pets. Bright colors shout look at me, muted colors are more shy, introverted. In some cases, we seek out colors to show we belong; we also seek out colors to show we don’t belong.

Certain types of sneakers can show that we are part of a group or they can announce us as a certified individual. Skate shoes show we’re cool, running shoes show we’re a little uptight. Tennis shoes are competitive, walking shoes are genial. We seek them out because we like the look, the feel, the colors. The comfort.

Sneakers can give us the ability to become superheroes in our every day lives. They can give us power, the power to change our lives simply by lacing up a pair of walkers or runners. The power of power, a power that comes by slamming a tennis ball so it just skims the net, all without losing balance. The power to put your feet up, kick back, have a glass of wine and be in the moment.

I have a pair of black Asics running shoes with twisted turquoise laces, a pair of white Reebok tennis shoes, another pair of white walking shoes with a Velcro close, a pair of black Skechers, a pair of tan K-Swiss, and a pair of blue Nike slip-ons without a back. What do they say about me? I have no idea. I bought them all for the comfort factor; some I also bought as a fashion statement. The black running shoes are my most recent addition. I bought them just last week. I’ve never had black running shoes before. They’re the brand I like though because they fit the shape of my foot, and I wanted something a little different.

Does that mean I’m trying to tell the world something? Could I secretly be dark and twisted? Perhaps not so secretly. Maybe it just means I like them, I’m comfortable in them, they make me feel good. The incredible lightness of being snug inside an airy or even a weighty sneaker also helps to lighten my mood. Maybe that’s the ultimate meaning of sneakers. To lighten and thus enlighten.

If that's the case, it's rather sneaky of them. I like that in a shoe.

Is there anything good about feeling bad?

by Lorin Michel Thursday, May 3, 2012 11:10 AM

Everybody has a down day every once in a while. A day where you wake up as tired as you were when you went to bed, and this, after nearly 8 hours of sleep. A day when it’s gloomy and cold, gray and lethargic. It just seems to add to the lack-of-sleep feeling. A day when it seems as if everything you touch breaks and everything you do is wrong. This is especially problematic when you feel that way about your work.

This is the kind of day I’ve had.

I went to bed last night at my somewhat usual hour, which was about 11:30, maybe 11:45. Perhaps a little later than usual but not substantially. I got up once during the night. Also usual. Woke up around 7:20 and thought seriously about rising for the day, but quickly decided against it. Just 10 more minutes. That’s all I wanted.

I woke up at 8:30. It was gray, gloomy and cold. Not the kind of wondrous cold that happens when it’s raining, which I love. Which got me thinking that maybe it’s not the cold of the rain that I love so much as the sound of the rain. The incessant and melodic tap on the roof and the windows. The slush of water from under the tires of cars as they drive by. No, this wasn’t that kind of day. It was the kind that our favorite weather guy, Dallas Raines, calls May Gray. May Gray, evidently, precedes June Gloom.

I poured a cup of coffee and used nearly the last of my creamer. I don’t like black coffee. I like it a lovely light taupe/tan color but since my Half ‘n Half was almost empty I had to ration. My coffee didn’t taste nearly as fabulously creamy as it does other mornings. A bad omen indeed.

From there, my workday began. I completed a book outline for a client and I thought it was good. I have had numerous meetings, both in person and on the phone with the client, and I had taken copious notes. I followed the notes; I was pleased. Maybe the day would be OK after all. I emailed it off and waited for the accolades. They didn’t come. Instead, I got a phone call, the gist of which was: “This is completely wrong, not at all what we talked about. It has to be revisited.”

This, and no cream for my second cup of coffee.

Another client sent something back and said: “It’s fine but it lacks a distinctive voice.”

Another: “We’ve decided to go a different direction. We’ll let you know if and when we can use you again.”

It seemed as if everything I touched was suffering from, well, me. It was as if I had lost any talent I had overnight. Maybe I slept too long. Maybe I had left it under the pillow. Maybe it was just gone.

I sat at my desk and literally hung my head. My wrong-color coffee was cold and dank; my computer screen dimmed from lack of use. I felt useless, a loser, afraid; bad.

I’m not good at feeling bad. I’ve never done it well. Most days, I’m fairly positive and even border on happy. I tend to look at the glass as mostly full. If it’s not full of liquid, it’s at least filled with cool, crisp, clean air. I like my life; I like my job.

Today, though, I wasn’t liking either. I felt stuck in a rut, buried in the mud, spinning ever faster on my hamster wheel and getting nowhere. I felt bad. Naturally, one of the first things that came into my mind was: How am I ever going to write a celebratory blog when I feel like a failure?

That thought was followed quickly by another: Is there anything good about feeling bad? Which was followed by: If there doesn’t seem to be anything good about it, could I possibly find something anyway?

Feeling bad can happen to anybody, and any dog. Everybody has days when they’re down for no reason and every reason. They feel bad because they’re tired, they lost their job, they lost a love, they miss someone, they’re on a diet. The point is they feel bad. And feeling bad is a feeling, and feelings mean we’re alive. And feeling alive means we have the power to make things change. We can change the trajectory of what’s happening, re-invent our talent, reassess our goals. We have the power to plow through the roadblocks in our way and discover what’s on the other side.

The good thing about feeling bad is feeling. I don’t know that there’s anything more phenomenal in life than being able to feel. Love, joy, sadness, fear, elation, trepidation. It’s what makes us real, it’s life, and ultimately the meaning of living it out loud. 

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live out loud

A lucky woman

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 24, 2012 8:29 PM

My house is quiet again today. It was lively this morning, with alarms beginning sometime around 2 am only to be placed into snooze mode as it was much too early. The real alarms, the ones that requested everyone to rise, get ready and get out, started at the appointed time of 5. There was a short series of buzzes that emanated from the guest room upstairs. It was soon quieted, no doubt by my sister’s hand. Next came a cell phone, followed quickly by an iPod, both alarms having a softer though no less powerful message. Soon I could hear the floor boards in the bathroom creaking. Yes, they definitely need to be fixed. Some day. Some day.

I lay in bed and listened to the girls getting ready. We had to leave for the airport and they were busy making pretty for the trip, packing their last minute items. The coffee pot clicked on, and soon, I heard the telltale gurgle of it finishing, and the aroma of freshly brewed French roast wafted our way. My alarm was supposed to go off at 5:30 but I was obviously awake. At 5:28, I rolled out of bed, slipped into sweat pants and a hoodie, pulled on a pair of socks, laced up my running shoes, ran a brush through my tangled mess of hair, brushed my teeth and went out to the kitchen. Poured some coffee as I squinted at the light over the sink. Kevin was still in bed. I poured him a cup. I knew he was going to want to get up to say goodbye, to see us off.

Soon the girls came down, lugging their carry-on bags. Khris had some coffee; Shawn took the last piece of the coffee cake I made on Sunday morning, wrapped it up in some napkins. They hugged Kevin and started to say their goodbyes while I took the bags out to the Rover. It was still dark though the sky was turning from midnight to dusty gray. I could see clouds high; the brightest stars still shown but were beginning to fade. The girls came out, climbed into the car. I kissed my husband and told him to go back to bed, hoped I’d be home by 7:30. Maybe I’d even go back to bed, too. It was 5:45.

We drove through the ever-lightening dark, along the 101, into the Valley toward the rising sun. The traffic was heavy but moving as I suspected it would be. It doesn’t start to really pack up until closer to 6:30. We would be nearly to the airport by then. We talked about the flight, about their trip. Khris and I sipped our coffee; Shawn munched her cake. We were tired. By 6:45 we were in front of Virgin America at Terminal 3. It was fairly quiet. I pulled to a stop in the appropriate white zone (for the immediate loading and unloading of passengers only), and we all spilled out onto the asphalt. The sun was shining, climbing into the sky; soon they would be as well. The bags were removed from the back and then it was time to say goodbye.

LAX in the morning

I am not a crier, but I’ve spent more time in tears in the last month and a half than probably any time in my entire life. As I hugged by beautiful niece and then my beautiful sister, I felt the tears sting my eyes, felt the lump in my throat, felt the heat in my face. It was so wonderful to have them here but it was just a visit and visits always come to an end. It’s times like this though, when saying goodbye, that I realize how far away I am from many of the ones I love. Sometimes, that’s hard. This morning was such a time.

It is my choice to live out here. It was my choice to move here 26 years ago and I don’t regret it. California has been very good to me. I have an incredible husband and truly remarkable friends, friends who are family. I love the west; I have always believed I was born to live out here. I fit in here. I’m comfortable.

But as Khris and Shawn took their bags and started through the glass doors, as I watched those doors slide open to swallow up my only sister and my only niece, I felt sad. And just for that moment, lonely. I miss them all the time, though I get used to not seeing them. But it was fabulous to have them here, to celebrate some of our great California weather (and some not-so-great California weather), to cook and drink wine (Shawn’s was sparkling cider) and visit and relax. It was a lovely long weekend.

As I type this tonight, they’re home, no doubt already in bed. Khris has her favorite pillow, Shawn is nestled into her sheets and comforter with Lucky, their dog, nearby. May they sleep long and restfully, and wake up tomorrow to enjoy their New Hampshire Wednesday, their routine, their lives. We all lead separate lives that intersect when we allow them, lives that are happy and successful and real and full of love. Maybe it’s how we were raised; maybe we’re just lucky. It’s no wonder that’s the name Shawn chose for their puppy four years ago. She knew.

I know, too. I’m a lucky woman. Living it out loud, here in California. 

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