The narrative of observation

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 9, 2013 11:38 PM

It’s amazing what you can sometimes see when you aren’t even looking, the stories that present themselves right in front of you and all around. There was a line in the remake of the film Sabrina where the title character said something along the lines of “every time I look through the lens of a camera, I find myself in the middle of a story.” I always loved that idea, how a compressed vision of the world lets you into a little piece of it, a place where people are living their lives, where others are engaged in their factual stories, where those on the outside looking in craft their own fictional stories of what’s going on.

These fictional stories are based on absolutely no information at all other than a visual. Take today for instance. Along the very busy thoroughfare known as Lindero Canyon, here in the land of the OP, two travelers trudging through the dripping sunshine in search of food and sustenance and the local Pavilions grocery store, happened upon quite a scene.

From the looks of things, a monkey had somehow managed to fall into the bushes below from the trees above. He evidently had consumed a great deal of champagne because an empty bottle was lying nearby in the dirt. Based on where he was sprawled, information was pieced together regarding what had happened.

He was on a branch, high in one of the fir trees that line the big canyon. His girlfriend had left him and moved in with an orangutan down the block and around the corner. He could hear them from his perch, laughing and snorting and chirping. She didn’t even sound like a monkey anymore. And what did HE have that he didn’t have, other than really nice orange fur.

He had graduated top monkey in his class. He could swing through the trees, reaching from branch to branch to branch better than anyone else. He could peel a banana and eat it at the same time. No one else he knew could do that.

He thought they were happy. But evidently he thought wrong. So last night, he had swung into the local liquor store, picked up a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut with a yellow label. He couldn’t pronounce it but it was on sale for $44.99, so he grabbed a bottle and swung back. The sun had set not long before and the sky glowed at the horizon. A bird flew by in silhouette. A squirrel taunted him. He didn’t care. He was too miserable.

He climbed his favorite tree, half way between the ‘fieds, Rockfield and Bowfield, found his favorite branch and hooked his tail around it. When he opened the bottle, he sent the cork skyward. He thought he heard some glass break but he didn’t care about that either. If someone lost a window, it was nothing. He had lost his heart.

He raised the bottle to his mouth and sucked on it. Soon, he was hungry and as he reached for a banana hidden in his stash behind the pinecones, he lost his balance. His tail unhooked from the branch and he and his banana ended up in the bushes below.

At least that’s what the narrative of observation told us when we happened upon a monkey, stuck inside his banana and lodged in the bushes on the south side of Lindero Canyon, with an empty bottle of champagne thrown to the ground to the right.

Either that or someone drinking champagne drove by and threw both out the window in a fit of giggles and anger or both.

Celebrating the stuffed monkey stuck inside a banana stuck inside a flowering bush along Lindero Canyon Road this afternoon. At least he had lived it out loud recently. 

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live out loud

Surviving survival town

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 25, 2013 9:57 PM

It was a beautiful spring day in 1955. The desert stretched as far as the eye could see, and in the middle of nowhere, a collection of homes and businesses, populated with plastic people, stood welcoming and ready. It was called Survival Town and it was destined to be obliterated on May 5 when the Apple-2 test was conducted at 8:10 am. The winds had calmed when the Army gave the all-clear signal and an atomic bomb was detonated. It weighed 31 kilotons. The blast area extended 3 miles out and essentially destroyed the “people” and the buildings.

Survival Town, however, still survives. Several of the town’s buildings actually withstood the blast, including a structure called Behlen, a corrugated steel structure that was only mildly dented during the explosion, even though it was just 6,800 feet away. Another house still stands starkly in the middle of the desert grass and yucca trees. The windows are gone but the window structures remain. A brick chimney still reaches toward a blue sky. Roof tiles are largely gone, as is the door, but the steps leading to the front door still lead to oblivion. It’s a ghost of a house.

Other bits of structures remain as well, largely gutted. They simply sit on the flats of the Nevada desert, remnants of a nuclear program when we knew what we had but didn’t yet know its devastating power. The Nevada Department of Energy still conducts tours of what still stands, though no cameras are allowed, visitors must be over the age of 14 and pregnant women are advised not to make the trip because of the bumpy bus ride.  It’s like the time that land forgot.

The desert is home to many such times and places. We see them when we drive through the Sonoran desert to Tucson. Discarded homes in the middle of what used to be someplace but is now only on the way to somewhere else. The Nevada desert, in addition to being the birthplace of nuclear bomb testing, is also the home of the infamous Area 51.

Area 51 is an air force base that’s near Edwards Air Force Base. It’s located in a very remote area of the Nevada desert near the dry bed of Groom Lake. It’s probably the most famous military installation in the world that doesn’t officially exist. It doesn’t appear on any public US government maps. For decades, conspiracy theorists and UFOlogists have speculated that the government uses Area 51 to experiment with extraterrestrials and their spacecraft. This is largely because of an alleged government cover-up in 1947 when an alien spaceship supposedly crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Others have even gone so far as to claim that the moon landing was staged there.

I don’t know all of the details about Area 51. I have read books and heard interviews by a woman named Annie Jacobsen who wrote an uncensored history of the base. She conducted interviews with 19 men who served there for decades, eye witnesses to the area’s history. Most didn’t cop to little green men but did talk of top secret spy planes developed in a program known as Oxcart. One such plane was the Archangel-12 which could travel at speeds of more than 2000 miles per hour and take photographs from an altitude of 90,000 feet. The SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter were also conceived and tested in the place known as Dreamland. These air craft are probably the reason so many desert drifters have sworn they’ve seen UFOs in the area.

The desert hides all the sins of man, burying them in amongst the sand and cactus, the blowing winds and the debilitating heat. There is history there. Here. Great accomplishments have happened; greater disappointments have taken place. It is the land of imagination, both horrific and incredible. It is a place where survival is never assured but if achieved, can be both devastating and glorious. In that way, the desert mirrors life. It can be frighteningly beautiful and disastrous, ugly and lush, full of love and death. And it can all be seen from satellite images, and from the heart.

I am fascinated with the desert, with its history, with its beauty and its unrelenting desire to capture its prey. Again, like life. For that reason, it’s a place to celebrate, for its strength, its character, its soul, its harsh reality, its ability to survive. And so I do, tonight and always. I am a desert rat, after all. And I am living it out loud. 

Two of my favorite words together in one great food

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 24, 2013 8:30 PM

Every Sunday, we have a ritual. We wake up, make coffee, retrieve the paper and take a cup of coffee along with the best sections of the paper back to bed. There are only small variations in the routine. Sometimes, if we have cantaloupe, Kevin will scoop some out and we bring a little of that along in a small bowl. Occasionally Kevin will put on the TV, particularly if it’s football season. After we’ve read the paper and lounged for a bit, we take the dog for a walk and then congregate in the kitchen to make some brunch. I say brunch because it’s usually too late for breakfast and much closer to lunchtime, but I always make breakfast food.

I start some smoked turkey bacon cooking slowly (yes, for the record, we prefer real bacon but turkey bacon is better for us so we’ve made ourselves used to it). Then I decide what I’m going to make. It’s often some type of egg establishment since it’s the only time during the week we indulge in eggs. Sometimes it’s an omelet, once in a while it’s over-easy – though not often because I have a hard time flipping eggs without breaking the yolk – or sunny-side up. Sometimes like today, I do some sort of a skillet scramble.

Kevin always jokes that whatever didn’t get used the night before gets added to Sunday breakfast. He’s right, but only to an extent, and especially when it comes to vegetables. Last night I made a low mein vegetable stir-fry with several kinds of mushrooms along with garlic, broccoli, and baby spinach. For something a little different, I also put in some chopped jalapeno pepper and some potato slices. It was quite tasty. I had some broccoli, mushrooms, potato and jalapeno left over so this morning, I separated out my ingredients. The skillet scramble would have sautéed mushrooms, broccoli, scallions and tomato. But what to do with the potatoes?

Home fries. I love home fries, largely because I love just about anything potato. Baked, French fried, au gratin, scalloped, salad, chips, soup. Breakfast potatoes are something I don’t make often though I love when we go out to breakfast. Restaurants almost always offer breakfast potatoes, usually in the form of home fries, to accompany their omelets, pancakes, waffles, French toast. If I had more will-power, I’d order the fruit cup. Will-power is not necessarily something I’m equipped with, especially when it comes to potatoes.

I had half of a fairly large Yukon gold potato left over last night and anticipating using it on Sunday and hating to throw away a potato, I put it in a bowl of water so it wouldn’t brown and stuck it in the fridge. I retrieved it, and sliced it up into nice, edible size chunks. I retrieved my jalapeno pepper and cut off three slices that I then diced. I found an onion and sliced that up. I put some olive oil into a skillet and tossed it all in, to start the sizzle and cook. I thought about pre-cooking the potatoes. It would make the process faster. But my prep time for breakfast takes a bit of time anyway, so I assumed, correctly, that allowing it all to simmer in olive oil would be just fine. I tossed it frequently so it wouldn’t burn. While that was simmering, I attended to the bacon, flipping that, and then got the veggies ready for the scramble. Sauteed the ‘shrooms, broccoli and scallions in butter. Flipped the fries, turned the bacon, stirred the sauté, beat the eggs into submission, made a fresh pot of coffee. Kevin was in charge of juice and fruit, in this case, fresh strawberries.

I tested the potatoes and when they were just about done, I sprinkled some smoked paprika over them, flipped them again to coat, turned the heat way down and put a cover over them to keep them warm and cooking. I turned up the heat under the bacon so it was snapping, and poured the eggs into the vegetable sauté to scramble. I added some diced roma tomatoes. The kitchen was alive with the aroma of onions and mushrooms and bacon and potatoes. My stomach was growling.

Once everything was done, I separated it onto two plates and we sat down to eat. It was all good, but the potatoes were especially good. I don’t know if it was the jalapeno or the smoked paprika but I could have made a meal on just the home fries.

Home fries have been around as long as humans have been consuming cooked potatoes. They’re a relatively simple dish that can be prepared by people with even modest cooking skills. Some serve them as a snack or a meal, often with ketchup, sour cream or maple syrup. If I’d added bell peppers, I would have been making Potatoes O’Brien, a dish that originated at a Boston restaurant called Jerome’s in the early 1900s. If I’d sliced and sautéed them with parsley and other seasonings I would have been cooking Lyonnaise potatoes. If I’d shredded the potatoes I would have been making hash browns.

As it was I was making a dish that has two of my favorite words in it: home, because I love being home; and fries because it reminds me of French fries, and French fries and I, well, we go way back.

Celebrating two simple and simply perfect words today, alone and together, and living it out loud.

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The expected but still sad demise of Wubba

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 23, 2013 8:12 PM

Wubba has died. A close friend of Cooper’s since the latter months of 2012, he was a force to be reckoned with, strong of character and able to sustain being thrown around the house with great force. He had recently fallen ill, however, having suffered a fairly severe head injury. Wubba was five months young.

Born late last year, Wubba came from the Kong family. Known as the ultimate interactive play toy for dogs, he was designed to play fetch and even a little tug-o-war. With a muscular build, he had a delicate squeak and five talons/tails/feet so he was easy to pick up and even easier to throw about the room.

When we got Wubba, it was completely on a whim. I was in PetCo or maybe it was Pet Smart, picking up dog food or maybe it was milkbones. I always peruse the toy aisle looking for something cute that my four-legged friend simply shouldn’t have to live without. We hadn’t had Cooper long. As a rescue, he was still getting used to us and his surroundings. We were still getting used to him as well; him and his eccentricities. What he liked, what he didn’t. We had a hedge hog waiting for him when we brought him home, but he hadn’t shown much interest in Hedge. Wubba, all brown and adorable was hanging on an end display. I’d never seen one before. I thought it was just sturdy enough to withstand the chewing, pulling, and throwing that would inevitably commence.

I presented Wubba to Cooper and they were instant friends. In fact, Wubba often had the place of honor in the kennel with Cooper when he went to bed or when Kevin and I went out and Cooper went into his kennel. He always grabbed Wubba first and then they’d go in together.

Wubba, circa early November 2012

Wubba also became a co-worker. Each day, after a night spent together in the kennel, we would all get up. While Kevin and I got dressed for a walk, Cooper would wrangle Wubba and start to growl and pounce and play. Then, once we were ready, the four of us would head toward the entrance way where Wubba would be dropped to the side in favor of the leash. Once we returned, and the leash was removed, Wubba once again found himself in Cooper's mouth. Up the stairs they would race, directly into my office, where Cooper would drop Wubba to the floor, then drop down next to him.

The office wasn’t the office without Wubba. If somehow, someway, Cooper forgot his chocolate colored friend, he would race back down the stairs, big dog butt bouncing along, run into the bedroom, grab Wubba and then race back up the stairs.

Cooper doesn’t believe in walking.

For five months, Wubba has been the toy of choice. Other toys have come and been destroyed, falling victim to a red-furred dog’s ferocious paws and teeth. On Christmas morning alone two toys were promptly decimated. My mother had sent an Abominable Snowman from the Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer Christmas special. My sister had sent Yukon Cornelius (I suspect they went shopping together). Both fell victim to the power and determination of Cooperman.

But Wubba stayed strong, held fast. Even on that fateful day when he and Cooper raced down the stairs and out through the back door, literally, tearing the screen from the frame. Cooper dropped Wubba in the yard and looked back as if to say “what?” Then he pointed a paw at Wubba: “it was all his idea.” Wubba didn’t deny it.

Wubba’s problems started earlier this week. There was evidently some type of altercation in my office because soon there were two brown ears discarded on the carpet. Those ears left tiny holes in Wubba’s head and errant strings. Strings that Cooper hooked his teeth on and pulled. Soon the tiny holes were big holes. And white tufts of Wubba stuffing began to appear on the floor. The head injury was catastrophic; the loss of stuffing profound. Wubba was not able to survive.

Cooper is distraught. He has been moping around the house all day, looking for best good friend Wubba. Alas, Wubba has gone to that big toy box in the wherever.

There will be no funeral. Wubba will not be cremated. He will instead be tossed into the trash when Cooper isn’t looking so that he can make his way to a landfill.

Unless Kevin decides to resurrect and restuff him. In which case we will have FrankenWubba.

Celebrating the life of Wubba on this Saturday night. He will be missed.

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The view from the chair

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 22, 2013 11:38 PM

It's Friday and that can only mean one thing: a haircut and color, both desperately needed. A couple of haircuts ago I changed my style a bit. Because I have wavy hair that goes wherever it wants to go and because said hair is relatively finely textured, I am somewhat limited to what I can do with my dark locks. This is probably more because I simply refuse to spend a lot of time on my hair. I don't have enough time as it is. I refuse to straighten and curl and fluff and mousse. My hair gets 5 minutes a day not including a shampoo.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. My changed hairstyle. I asked Tammy, my beloved hair stylist, to give me a long shag. Now before you recoil in horror, with visions of Carol Brady haunting your daydreams, allow me to recall the conversation.

Tammy: “So what are we doing today?”

Me: “I'm thinking kind of a long shag.”

Tammy: “No.”

Tammy, it should be noted, can bear a striking resemblance to my husband in terms of opinion.

Me: “Well not a shag-shag. More of a sort of shag.”

Tammy pondered this for a minute. She was standing behind me as I sat in her chair. We were both facing me in the mirror and she had her hands in my hair. It's interesting that a hairdresser can play with your hair and there is nothing remotely romantic about it.

Tammy: “You mean just lots of layers?”

Me: “Perfect!”

So I got lots of layers and wispys at the ends. A modern version of a shag. More Jane Fonda on Newsroom than Florence Henderson on The Brady Bunch. Easy to take care of, quick to blow dry. Five minutes tops. But lots of layers means I have to get a haircut more often because lots of layers grow out very quickly. But since Tammy acquiesced to my "shag," I'm much happier.

As I sit in her chair once again on this Friday, with a new kind of color combed through my hair, I’m pondering. The color is organic which I both like because it's healthier and am apprehensive about because organic doesn't usually cover as well. My hair is very dark, always has been save for a brief journey into light brown/blonde when I was in my early to mid-30s. I liked it but the maintenance was horrific. See previous comment about very dark hair. Dark hair has dark roots. Dark roots on light brown/blonde is skunkish.

As I write this, my hair is slicked back with this new color and Tammy is currently busy cutting the hair of the person sitting immediately to my right who looks and sounds remarkably like my husband because it is. They're talking about Cooper. I’m studying my reflection and the hair color. It’s not as wet as hair color usually is. I do not have high hopes. Now they’re talking about wine. I’ve said before we have limited interests and people who know us are intimately involved in the details of those interests. Before Cooper, it was Maguire. They know we’re dog people. They know we’re wine people. Politics can’t be far behind.

Behind me another stylist, Claudia, is cutting the hair of an elderly woman. Claudia seems to have a lot of elderly clients. I think it’s wonderful. In the back, the nail lady is leaning against the wall, awaiting her next client. I see it all through the mirror. Outside, I can hear the occasional car drift by. A dog barks, then another. There is a tussle, the kind of dog interaction that we are also intimately acquainted with. I can’t help but smile.

I wonder about my gray hair and the fact that the right side of my head gets grayer than the left side. I supposed that’s because the right side gets worked more as the right is the creative side. I wonder if having a sort of shag really does turn me into Carol Brady. I never liked her, not even when I was a kid and I was supposed to think she was the coolest mom around. As far as I was concerned, the coolest mom was Shirley Partridge. She had a shag haircut, too. Then again, so did David Cassidy, and I was a big fan of David Cassidy when I was little. My hair is more his color. Carol and Shirley were both frosted blondes.

Today when Tammy combs out my hair after the color has been washed away and says “so what are we doing? Still liking the sort of shag?” I’ll smile coyly at her through the mirror and say “yep. But this time let’s go with David Cassidy.”

Living it out loud on a Friday in the salon, and celebrating the sheer joy of getting my hair done. 

When I flew to the moon

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 17, 2013 8:40 PM

I saw a commercial today. I can’t remember what it was for but there was a beautiful little blonde girl in it and she was asking the wondrous questions that little kids ask, not necessarily expecting answers but asking them nevertheless. Questions like how far is it to the moon? At one point she was blowing through a straw, rather than sucking her milk up through it. The force of the oxygen created light, frothy, milky clear bubbles that rose up and up and up until they spilled over the glass and she giggled. I giggled too, and suddenly I was back on Northern Drive in Fairview, six, maybe seven years old with no cares other than blowing bubbles in my milk and finding people to play with.

Most days were spent with the girls across the street, Jan and Jill Zolner. They were close to my age, though I think I was slightly older. At six, maybe seven, time fuses together, especially under the warm sun of summer. There were other kids in the neighborhood, of course, including my friend Steve who was a year older and lived next to the Zolners, and Kurt who was the same age as me and lived next to Steve.

One day, the Zolners got a new refrigerator delivered. It came in a big cardboard box that was temporarily thrown into their back yard while they were setting the fridge up in the kitchen. We stood there in front of the box, me and Jan and Jill and Steve and Kurt, and quickly formulated a plan. We were going to the moon.

Scissors were gathered along with magic markers, crayons and Elmer’s Glue. We started cutting, dissecting the box. We cut out windows. From the remnants of the cardboard we constructed controls and a wheel because we had to be able to steer. There were several levers that were attached to the inside of the box, mostly for shifting gears to go forward. We have pedals, too, no doubt to brake. Dials were drawn and colored in. We got blankets and bed sheets. The box was kept in its original four sided, box shape and we put a sheet on the ground to sit on. The ship was then pulled down over us and a blanket was placed over the top to seal the capsule.

From our winter gear, we grabbed our best knit hats. Mine was striped with ear flaps and a pom-pom on top. I pilfered an old pair of my mother’s sunglasses, to shield my eyes from the harshness of space, and properly suited, I announced to my crew that we would be blasting off at sundown.

It must have been a Saturday because the families were having a barbecue together that night so I didn’t have to be home when the sun went down. My parents and siblings were coming across the street to me.

The team was ready. We stood on the Zolner’s back deck, watching the sky, dressed in our air-tight suits. The smell of hamburgers and hotdogs wafted over us, and our stomachs growled, but it did not deter our focus. As the sun finally disappeared into the trees and the fireflies came out to play, we climbed into our new space ship and prepared to blast off.

The year was 1969. In May, Apollo 10 had flown within 50,000 feet of the moon’s surface. In July, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had landed on the moon. It had been all over the news; I’m sure my parents had watched though I have no memory of the event. I think that maybe it was the inspiration for our cardboard space ship that one warm summer night, the night that Jan, Jill, Steve, Kurt and I flew to the moon.

Remembering bubbles and moon landings on this Sunday and living it out loud.


live out loud

If you snooze, you don't lose

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 11, 2013 8:58 PM

It seems that every month has some national designation or another. For instance, March is National Nutrition Month and coincidentally National Peanut Month. It’s also National Frozen Food Month, National Women’s History Month and National Irish American Heritage Month; the latter was even designated by Congress in 1995. Along with designated months there are also designated days, which is good for a blogger who likes to write about celebrating something each day.

Today I’m celebrating something I would like to partake in but rarely do, largely because I’m busy all day, every day and by the time I’m not busy, it’s time for bed. I’m speaking of that wondrous national day known as Napping. It’s unofficial, this National Napping Day, but I for one, think that should change. Because as of 3 o’clock on this Monday, the second day of daylight savings, after springing forward in time, I could really use a nap. For some reason, daylight savings really wipes me out. For about a week, I’m simply exhausted by the time afternoon rolls around. It’s as if I’m suffering from jet lag after a trip to Europe. The adage is that it takes a day per hour to get over jet lag. Eight hours (or Europe) should take 8 days, so one hour should take one day of recovery.

I’ve never had too much trouble with jet lag. Even when I went to Japan, which has either a 16 hour or a 17 hour time difference depending on whether we’re in daylight savings time or not, I recover fairly quickly. Of course, I was a lot younger then.

But one hour of daylight savings time and I’m down for the count. So reading about National Napping Day today made me feel, well, tired. Especially this afternoon, at 3 pm, as the sun streamed in through my window and warmed my loft, as I sipped a glass of cold, filtered water, as Cooper stretched and yawned, snapping his jaws closed as his eyes flickered back to sleep.

National Napping Day was created by Boston University professor William Anthony and his wife Camille in 1999 with one goal: to encourage people to take a nap wherever they are – at home, at work, on vacation.

Sleep in general has a number of health benefits. It can help protect against heart disease and obesity. It can actually help build stronger bones and increase a person’s ability to remember things. Think of how many brain holes you have when you’re not sleeping well. Thoughts and ideas just fall right out.

Sleep also has beauty benefits. I know I always feel like I look better when I’ve had a good night’s sleep. My skin is more hydrated, my eyes are brighter; even my hair is bouncier. Unfortunately I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep.  Perhaps a nap would help.

Napping, even a short one of just 20 minutes, can help boost alertness. NASA did a study that found higher alertness in pilots after just a 40-minute nap.

Napping improves learning and memory, especially if you can nap for an hour or more. Brain holes can close and your brain activity actually remains high all day.

Napping increases creativity. Now this is one I can really get behind since what I have to do all day is be creative, or at least try to be creative. A nap leads to a lot of activity in the right hemisphere, the side of the brain linked to creativity.

Napping can actually improve work output. In fact, short power naps can help sleep-deprived, worn-out employees more than a cup of coffee.

Napping makes you feel happier than non-napping. This goes back to the sleep and health and beauty benefits. In other words, wanna improve your mood? Take a nap.

Wanna get rid of stress? Take another nap. If you’re stressed, you may not be sleeping well, so a nap or even relaxing in bed for just 10 minutes can provide a mini-vacation, at least according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Not surprisingly, the National Sleep Foundation is very big on National Napping Day. I am, too, even though I can’t remember the last time I actually celebrated a nap, national day or not. For all those who do nap, I’m envious. For all those who are thinking about taking a nap, it’s time to lie down and be counted because with this kind of snooze, you can’t lose. I like to think of it as living it out loud very, very quietly.

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Pardon me while I switch on my fireplace

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 8, 2013 8:14 PM

When it’s cold outside one of the things I look forward to most is a roaring fire. This winter, it’s been colder than usual with night temps regularly down in the high 20s/low 30s. Cold for Southern California. From what I’ve been told, temps in the entire southwest have been colder than usual. We talked to Architect Mike the other day, in Tucson, and he said it’s been very cold. They’ve actually had snow.

When we bought this house, in 1997, we had only a few must-have criteria. It needed to be in an area with a good school district. We wanted a nice neighborhood. The house needed to have natural gas for cooking and heating, and it had to have at least one wood-burning fireplace. Also, it had to be affordable. We got everything on our list. Our house is not very big, just about 1800 square feet total, with three bedrooms and two and a half baths. The master bedroom is downstairs, off of the great room that provides the space for the dining room as well as the family room. We’ve never been big on having a formal living room. No one ever really uses a formal living room. The family room is, naturally, where the fireplace resides, on the sidewall in the back corner of the house. It has a gas starter, which makes it very easy to get one of those big roaring fires going. Each night, we turn on the gas, light it with a long lighter and sit back and enjoy the snap, crackle and pop; the hiss and sizzle; the smoke as it curls up the chimney; the red glow and gray ash; the smell. I love it all.

Our new house will have four fireplaces including one out on the patio. There will also be a big one in the family room, one in the master bedroom and one in the guest suite. I’ve never had more than one fireplace. I can hardly imagine the ambiance. The house will have that amazing light that only emanates from a fire, eerie and soft, warm and cold all at once. The Sonoran desert gets very cold at night and we’ll be in the northeast corner of the city, as the Catalina highway climbs up into the mountains toward Mt. Lemon. There is skiing up there, so there is snow. The temperatures drop into the teens. Having a fireplace out on the patio, where we can sit regardless of the temperature, sipping a glass of Michel Cellars Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon, looking out over the spooky glow of towering Saguaro cactus on an otherwise clear night, will be spectacular. In my imagination, I’m there already; I’ll be there tonight.

As someone who grew up in the Northeast and thus was thrust into frigid temperatures for nearly six months of the year, you would think I’d be tougher when it comes to being cold. But I’m cold all the time. I’m one of those people, like Sally Allbright in When Harry Met Sally, who gets cold when it’s 72º out. During cold, rainy days like today when the air is raw, the house never seems to warm up. I sit in my loft office and freeze. Or at least I used to, but now I have a fireplace in my office, too.

No, we didn’t knock out a wall to put in a pre-fabricated fireplace unit. I didn’t blow a hole in the ceiling so that smoke from my little campfire could waft up and out. It’s much more simple than that because my office fireplace is electric. Kevin bought it for me last year and it has been getting quite a bit of use this year.

It’s very stylish, with its metallic red case and black face. It has three speeds. One is just the electric flame, for romantic mornings in front of the computer sipping a hot cup of coffee. Low keeps the flame flickering while also blowing out gentle heat, enough to wrap around my feet and rise toward my hands, keeping my fingers warm as I type furiously. I’ve never had it on high, that’s how well low works.

Until I can sit out on my patio in Tucson, looking out over the city, with our nearly 300º views, until I can lounge in my bed on a stormy Sunday with the fire blazing in the room, until I can cook in the kitchen and still hear the snap, crackle, pop, hiss and sizzle coming from the great room, until then I will enjoy my lovely fireplaces here in the OP, the one downstairs and the one here in my office. Here, let me switch it on and show you.

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The moment of clarity

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 5, 2013 8:40 PM

Every once in a while I am hit by a bolt of lightning and it’s not always because I have done something to disparage a god or religion I don’t necessarily subscribe to. Whether the lightning bolt shoots down from the sky or up from the ground or out of the rocks to my right makes no real difference. The bolt is the same and it singes my brain with something approaching certainty. It is my aha moment. Suddenly, I know what to do about whatever it is that has been swirling around my head, giving me trouble or making me wonder about, well, what to do. It becomes crystal clear. Problem solved.

I love the aha moment, the lightning bolt. I love the feeling of certainty it brings. Just the other day I was trying to figure out what to have for dinner and suddenly my gut said “don’t do pizza. Do pasta.” And just like that I knew what to do.

OK. Silly example, I know. I was trying to lighten the mood.

The aha, the bolt, the gut instinct. They all happen during times of uncertainty. Usually it happens when I want to do one thing very badly but all three of those (the aha bolt instinct) are screaming at me to do the opposite. Should I take that new job? Should I buy a new car? Should I take a year off and travel the world? I really, really think I should.

The aha bolt instinct gives me the whoa I need to stop myself, think clearly and make the right decision so that I don’t go off the rails, don’t fly off the handle, don’t get bogged down in something that really isn’t good for me to be doing.

It’s something that I first became aware of on Kevin’s and my second date. We went to see a very romantic film starring Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, among others, called Pulp Fiction. It’s extremely vulgar, profane, violent as hell and crazy in its twisting of time and story. It also has moments when Tarantino-style philosophy comes through. Usually with blood and gore attached and gushing out on the screen, but it comes through nevertheless. One such philosophical scene takes place in the diner at the end after Vincent and Jules have finally cleaned up their killing spree. They’re having breakfast, discussing what they want to do in life, and Jules, who wants to simply walk the world, to change his life, says: “I was sitting here, eating my muffin and drinking my coffee and replaying the incident in my head, when I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.” He was seeing the way. I was realizing that I had found someone I could love. On just the second date.

The aha, the lightning bolt, the gut instinct, the whoa. The WTF. The moment when life becomes clear. The moment of clarity.

A moment of clarity is when you suddenly get a deep understanding of some truth that's been out of reach for you. When your vision becomes unclouded and instead becomes focused by a mad rush of what has been called an epiphany or revelation. People suffering from addictions use this phrase to refer to a moment when they are not being affected by their substance and can "see" or understand, finally, the nature of their problem and finally realize the need to stop and get help. It’s a moment of clarity – of clearity – from whatever is making the brain cloudy, making the person unsure.

I love the moments of clarity, those rare times when things in life do become crystal clear, when suddenly the way forward has a light shining brightly, a beacon showing the way to go. It’s impossible to know when it’s going to happen but when it does, it is joyous. And always worth celebrating. 

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Great things are going to happen

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 4, 2013 8:53 PM

I was talking with Bobbi today about some of the issues we’re all facing, issues we have little to no control over. Finances, work, life and death. She spoke about Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who created something called logotherapy, a focus founded on the belief that it is the striving to find meaning in one’s life that is the primary, most powerfully motivating and driving force in each of us. His landmark book, Man’s Search for Meaning, talked about how we need to identify a purpose in life, something we can feel positively about, and then totally immerse ourselves in imagining exactly the outcome we’ve envisioned. It was a mindset he developed during his time as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II.

Frankl was deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto on September 25, 1942 where he initially worked in a clinic as a general practitioner and then as a psychiatrist. He was even allowed to conduct open lectures on a variety of mental health topics. Two years later, on October 19, 1944, he was sent to Auschwitz, processed and moved to Kaufering, a camp affiliated with Dachau. He spent five months working as a slave laborer before being transferred to Türkheim where he stayed until he was liberated by the Americans in 1945. Frankl’s wife died at Bergen-Belsen, his father died at Theresienstadt, his mother died at Auschwitz as did his brother. A sister survived by escaping to Australia. Frankl survived by understanding that even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanizing situation, life has potential meaning, and that even suffering is meaningful.

He wrote that “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

It’s amazing to think of it actually, that someone who endured such incredible punishment for the simple reason that he was Jewish, that a man who witnessed the sheer brutality of other men, could find something to embrace in the midst of such horror. That he could, in essence, celebrate the joy of life. It may be the ultimate in rising above and in using the power of one’s mind and the depth of one’s soul to see how you want life to be rather than how it is.

I’m sure I’m over simplifying. I have known about Frankl and about Man’s Search for Meaning, but haven’t actually read it. I should. I suspect I would be even more moved, and more determined than ever to think positively, to envision what and how I want my life to be. Sometimes it can be difficult to believe there are good things coming because it’s impossible to see them right now. So many people I’m close to are going through so much, and there’s nothing that can be done to ease their pain. Nothing but time, and I suppose the ability to try to see that something better will eventually return; indeed prevail. We all have it, though some days it can be literally impossible to get to that point.

Bills need to be paid, money needs to be gathered, work needs to be harnessed. People need to be buried, pets to be cremated. Each day can feel like you’re spinning your wheels or like you’re wearing cement sneakers. You can’t see past the frustration, the fear; the sadness; the despair.

I hate seeing people suffer; can’t stand to have the people I care about grieving or struggling. What to do? Be there, I suppose. Try to offer support and hope, and joy, sometimes a smile.

To help all of us to “live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” Easier said than done, I know. I have dark days and sleepless nights, too, but I believe that things will get better. I know that great things are going to happen if I just see them in my imagination. That’s where the joy of life exists. I’m sure of it. 

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