The one where we have to find a can

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 26, 2013 10:25 PM

For Christmas last year, which was only a month ago, my husband gave me a pizzelle iron. I’ve written before of my love for the Italian waffle cookies, a love that started when I was a kid. I’m sure my grandmother made them, though I don’t remember her sitting in front of the stove. I do have fond memories of my mother doing just that, with her hand-held iron that made one pizzelle at a time. It would take her hours but it was worth it, at least for those of us not doing the ironing.

Flash forward some 40 years and there, under the tree, was a Cuisinart pizzelle iron. It’s electric, so right away I knew it would be easier than what my mother used. It also cooks two at once, which I figured would cut down on the time needed to bake. I hadn’t used it yet; hadn’t even taken it out of the box, at least not until this morning.

I’ve been planning to try my pizzelle skills for weeks now. I had looked at the recipe that came in the box. Pretty straight forward. I made sure we had all of the ingredients. Even bought unsalted butter about three weeks ago. But each weekend would come and go and no pizzelles would be made. I don’t know what was holding me back except that I had visions of pizzelle-making taking all day long. See above comment about my mother.

Today, we took Cooper for a nice long walk and then settled into the kitchen for some coffee. I fed his dogness while Kevin poured some java and sat down at the table to peruse the paper. Suddenly I had a thought. I believe it went something like this: Hmmmm. I don’t want to read the paper because I’m tired of the news. Hey! Maybe I’ll finally make pizzelles!

“I think I’m going to make pizzelles,” I said out loud. Kevin nodded and proceeded to read me an article about LA mayor Villaraigosa and his plan to make bicycle lanes more prevalent and more safe.

I pulled the box out of the pantry, took out the iron, and the recipe. Full disclosure: I was supposed to ask my mother for her recipe but I kept forgetting. I figured they must be similar. I read it a couple of times and started getting out everything I was going to need. Eggs, butter, flour, baking powder, sugar, pure Anise; bowls; measuring cups and spoons; the electric mixer. For someone who doesn’t bake, I’m always kind of amazed that I have all of the accoutrements, like an electric mixer. I have no idea where it came from.

A very short time later, I had batter. I plugged in the iron and waited for it to heat up. And then, I had my first two cookies. I couldn’t believe how quickly they cooked, or how quickly I went through the entire bowl of batter. I started at 11:20 and was completely finished and cleaned up by noon. Not at all what I remember from when I was young.

So there I was, standing in the kitchen, staring at my two nice neat stacks of near perfect pizzelles, and I hear my mother’s voice: “You can’t store pizzelles in Tupperware or any kind of plastic including plastic bags because they get soft. And pizzelles should never ever be soft. They should be crisp. They should snap.”

Me: “Well, what do I put them in?”

Mom’s voice: “You need a coffee can.”

Me: “But I don’t buy coffee in a can. I buy it in bags and we grind our own.”

Mom’s voice: “Well, you must have some sort of popcorn tin around, from a Christmas gift.”

Me: “We do, but I keep the dog’s food in it.”

Mom’s voice, now exasperated at having this imaginary conversation: “How about a tin that other cookies came in?”

I turned to Kevin, who was happily munching on his fifth cookie: “Do we have a cookie tin? My mom says we need a tin.”

Kevin: “When the hell did you talk to your mother?”

Me: “Never mind. We need a tin.” And then I explained why and that we didn’t want soggy pizzelles and he agreed so we started looking through the cabinets. Actually he started looking through the cabinets while I poured a cup of coffee. After all, I had just finished slaving over a hot pizzelle iron. I needed a break.

Within seconds my wondrous husband had produced … a cookie tin. Something I didn’t even know we had so of course I had to ask: “Where did you find THAT?!”  And he smiled and reached for another cookie and told me that he couldn’t tell me or else he’d have to kill me and then he’d have to make his own pizzelles and to be quiet and just load up the can already.

Just like that we had both pizzelles and a proper storage facility for them. Life is good on a Saturday in Michel-land.

Illusions of people and things

by Lorin Michel Friday, January 25, 2013 8:50 PM

A number of years ago, Sydney Pollack, the late director of such wonderful films as The Way We Were, Tootsie, and The Firm did a remake of the Humphrey Bogart/Audrey Hepburn classic Sabrina. I admit to never having seen the original. I was never much of an Audrey Hepburn fan. The remake starred Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond and Greg Kinnear. It was charmingly fluffy in a non-offensive way. It wasn’t great but it’s still a lovely distraction on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

There is a scene, though, from the beginning that I think is really profound. Sabrina has gone to Paris to work for Vogue magazine and while she’s there, she’s trying desperately to get over her love for the youngest brother of the very rich family her father works for. The editor she works for at Vogue is a lovely French woman, kind to the very awkward and largely untalented American. She says to Sabrina at one point as they discuss Sabrina’s unrequited love: “Illusions are dangerous people. They have no flaws.”

When I was younger, I would often look up to people, put them on pedestals for I’m not sure what reason. Maybe I was looking for them to fulfill something I thought was missing in me. I created illusions, something I suspect may be common. The first may have been my cousin. She was older than me by about four and a half years. She lived near my grandmother, my dad’s mother. Her mother, my dad’s sister, had died when she was about five and my grandmother doted on her. I thought she was the coolest person in the world even though she treated me with complete contempt. I was like the poor relation; the irritating little sister. But I worshipped the ground she despised me on. To this day, I don’t know why I worshipped her, why I created the illusion of a relationship where none existed. When I saw her first when my grandmother passed away and then again six months later when we lost my dad, I felt myself start to slip back into being a little girl. I had had no contact with her in the 30 years prior or now in the 10 years since, and yet the illusion of her as being the coolest person on the planet seemed to persist.

But she’s just a person, married for some 30 years of so, with two grown sons. She works as a nurse. She lives in the same town she’s always lived in. She’s real, not an illusion, and we never had any relationship. We don’t now. Why the hero worship? Why the illusion?

I’ve had friends that I’ve looked up to as well. I couldn’t understand why they would be friends with me, since they were so much cooler than I. I would look at each beautiful human that they were and wonder why I couldn’t be more like them, why I didn’t have better hair, or bluer eyes. Why I wasn’t taller. Mostly I wished I could be more outgoing, more popular, more sure of myself since they always seemed so sure of themselves. Most of those friendships have long since dissipated, unable to stand up under the illusion of perfection.

I’ve had romantic dalliances that were also based on the idea of someone rather than the reality. I was young; I was naïve. And I was living in the movies.

Another movie that’s fun if not fabulous but that has one of those profound scenes comes from the Nora Ephron film Sleepless in Seattle. It’s a charming flick, with a young Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan when they were both at the height of being pretty with great hair. The scene that I remember most occurs when Ryan’s character Annie has just returned from a reconnaissance mission to spy on Hanks’ character Sam. She and Rosie O’Donnell are watching An Affair to Remember, the one with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and O’Donnell’s character (whose name escapes me right now) says: “You don’t want to be in love; you want to be in love in the movies.”

Because in the movies, love is much easier. The couple gets together to finally profess their love, fade to black, roll credits. We never get to see how they make enough money to pay the mortgage, or the fight they have over his or her family, or where to get takeout – IF to get takeout; how to pay tuition. We worship the imaginary because sometimes it’s easier than living in the real world.

I’ve been guilty of it; I suspect most people have experienced something similar in their lives. We want how we think things should be; we want people to become the illusions we’ve created in our minds. And like the woman said in Sabrina, it’s dangerous, because an illusion doesn’t exist. It’s a magical creation of something or someone with no flaws. Reality simply can’t measure up to that.

As I’ve grown older and hopefully wiser, I’ve embraced living in the real world with real people, flaws and all. I don’t worship anymore. Instead I love. I love my family and friends, even in their dysfunctional glory; sometimes because of that dysfunction. I love my husband for the man that he is; ditto my son. The only one I still have illusions of is Cooper because I believe that one day he will be the perfect dog rather than the near perfect dog he is currently.

I long ago came to my senses and decided to be in love in and with the real world because it’s so much more fun to be with the people I’m with rather than with people who don’t exist. Because the other thing about illusions is that they’re transparent and singular in their dimension, and not very much fun to hug and squeeze, to enjoy a good laugh or cry with, to fight and makeup with; to pay tuition and mortgages with; to drink a fine wine with.

It’s what I call reallusions and it’s what I’m celebrating today, and how I’m living it out loud.

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Every coat, jacket and zip-up hoodie I own has a plastic bag in the pocket and other observances from Wednesday

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, January 23, 2013 8:15 PM

One of the many joys that come from once again being owned by a dog is the constant presence of “the bag.” As in “do you have a bag?” A regular question Kevin and I ask each other each morning and evening. It usually happens as we’re putting on a coat, or a jacket, or a hoodie, like this morning. I was walking Cooper alone since Kevin was on deadline and I started by putting on my black jacket. But I wasn’t sure of the temperature even though the day was rather gloomy, and gloomy in January usually means cold. Zipping it up, I stepped out onto the back patio, hands in my pockets. An orange bag that once housed the Los Angeles Times filled the left one. The temp was warmer than I anticipated, so back inside I went, tossed the jacket and the bag onto the bed to hang up later, and reached into the closet for my new hoodie. I slipped it on, zipped it up and stuck my hands in the pockets. Yep. A bag. Actually two. Ready for anything that might befall us.

Here’s what else I know today: There are an awful lot of blue colors of cars out on the road. Powder blue, navy blue, flat blue, metallic blue, a periwinkle Mercedes, a slate blue Range Rover, a sky blue Camry. Some clean, some dirty, some new, others old. One with a smashed-in bumper; a Honda with new dealer tags.

When the sky is heavy with clouds, condensing the sound, and a jet flies over on its way to LAX, it rumbles like thunder.

A tuna melt is better on rye bread but it’s not horrible without bread as long as there are olives, onions, fresh celery and a bit of fresh jalapeno all chopped up finely, mixed with some mayo and topped with melted Havarti.

I miss potato chips as a side dish.

I wait for the mail to come every day and yet there’s rarely anything in it that’s worthwhile. Most of it seems to be solicitations for supporting a various cause, usually animal related. As much of a sucker as I am for helping animals, I simply don’t have the money to support all of them, and sometimes it seems as if all of them are asking.

I wish I could.

As much as I like doing things online, buying postage to send a publishing contract back to London is not one of them.

I miss having a big tub of Red Vines.

I don’t miss having a big tub of Red Vines because I can’t stop eating them.

Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day and so I’m going to make pasta for dinner. It’s not Prince sauce or spaghetti but the sentiment is the same, and hopefully the food will be even better. I could eat pasta every day of the week.

It is difficult for someone who has never had trouble with her weight to suddenly have trouble with her weight. I’m just saying.

I think Hillary Clinton is absolutely brilliant.

The lady who lives over on Evanswood who used to have a Bouvier des Flanders now has a Golden Doodle puppy named Victor Hugo and he looks like a big moppy bear rug but with infinitely more energy, very sharp puppy teeth and feet the size of coffee mugs.

I haven’t seen the Squire around lately and I’m starting to get worried.

Kevin’s debit card got hacked today and Bank of America caught it before we did. As bad as the banks can be, I’m happy they’ve all put mechanisms in place to catch this kind of stuff before it gets out of hand. Several years ago, he got torched for about $7000 and we were the ones who caught it, though the bank made good.

January is almost over. It’ll be Christmas soon.

Justin’s tuition is due. And ouch.

Argo was excellent.

My dog talks in his sleep. On a related note, I love the fact that the Earl on Downton Abbey has a dog and that the dog’s butt is the first thing we see on the opening credits. There must be a metaphor in there somewhere.

It’s supposed to rain this weekend.

There is a wine barrel in our entrance way. It does not yet have any wine inside.

I’m living it out loud. 

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The simple joy of a squeaky clean car

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 20, 2013 9:34 PM

I am a car snob. I am also a hotel snob, but for purposes of this post, let’s stick to the four wheels rather than the four-stars. My cars don’t have to be new, and in most cases, I don’t want them to be. I have had mostly used, or pre-owned, cars in my driving history and I’m just fine with that. They’re a better value and if you have the time to search, you can find just what you want.

I’ve had Porsches and Toyotas, Mazdas, BMWs and Land Rovers. Out of all of those, three were new: a Mazda MX-6, a BMW 330i and a Land Rover Discovery Series II. I’ve had two used Porsches (both 944s, one Before Kevin, one with), two used Toyotas (one BK, one with), one used Mazda (my beloved RX-7), two used BMWs (both with Kevin) and two used Land Rovers (our first Range Rover and our current one).

A good used car can be cosmetically and mechanically excellent. The key, then, is keeping it that way. Obviously we make sure the oil is changed. If there is ever any kind of issue, we immediately have it checked out. Both of our cars are garaged (as is the motorcycle), and we keep both as clean inside and out as possible. We take great care in vacuuming as well as washing. We always do it ourselves for two reasons: 1) we do a better job; and 2) we do a better job.

Some of the car washes around here are fine, but we’ve found that mass car washing places tend to lead to things not getting as clean as we’d like, like the wheels. Yes, if you look up anal-retentive-when-it-comes-to-their-cars in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Kevin and I. It’s actually a really nice pic . Too much brake-dust doesn’t get washed away. And too much water remains either on the car or in the various crevices of the metal or fiberglass which leads to water spots. Maybe this is a California problem, because of the near-constant warmth of the sun, but water spots on an otherwise clean car makes the car look less clean.

The Porsche is having some health issues so it doesn’t get driven very much. Around the block every week or so just to keep it running. Thus, it remains clean. Occasionally we dust it. The Range Rover, the workhorse, gets all the heavy lifting. It hadn’t been washed since sometime before Christmas. Since then it made several trips back and forth to the airport, went to several holiday parties and a wine tasting trip north of Santa Barbara, not to mention meetings and just general living trips like to the grocery store. It was rained on, sat out in near freezing temperatures, and had countless bugs commit suicide on its windshield.

It was dirty.

Actually, it was filthy. The beautiful powder-coated chrome wheels were black with dust that had also been kicked up onto the paint. The finish was both dusty and water-stained. The cover over the headlights was also dusty, watermarked and sporting the remains of bugs. We don’t normally let the car get that bad. Last summer when we drove to Tucson and got caught in a thunderstorm, we washed the car while on vacation. But it has been so cold, and the idea of being wet outside, with cold spraying water just wasn’t appealing. Then came yesterday.

The day was in the high 70s; a gentle breeze was blowing. We backed the car out into the driveway, brought Cooper out and hooked him to the tree so he could be with us, then set about our task. We vacuumed, we windexed, we dusted. Then we moved to the outside. First the wheels, then the rest of the car. Soap and spray, soap and spray, climb up on a ladder to do the top. Once it was clean and rinsed, Kevin pulled out the leaf blower, plugged it in and essentially gave the car a nice blow dry, put a little finish of Armor-all on the trim and it was pretty as new.

It took two hours. I can wash, blow dry and finish in 30 minutes. I guess the Rover has more hair.

We put its shiny self in the garage and closed the door. Ever since and every once in a while, we open the door that leads out to the garage, turn on the light and admire our work as the paint glistens under the electric sun. There’s something to be said for physical exertion that leads to the completion of a task. It can be easier than mental exertion. Perfect for a sunny weekend day.

It’s simple things like washing the car that can bring abundant amounts of joy. My husband calls them ergs of pleasure. I call it living out loud.

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The virtues of boring

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 19, 2013 7:30 PM

Last night a friend of ours joined us for Fritini. We hadn't seen her in awhile and we were looking forward to catching up. Boy did we. It seems that the man she has been involved with for several years, a man we knew only a little but liked tremendously, turned out to be a total dud. Scratch that. He turned out to be a probable sociopath. Basically everything he has said since she has known him has been a lie. A lie about how he's making money or not; whether he's writing a book or not. If he's involved with another woman or not; if he has a major drinking problem or not. She has bailed him out of jail numerous times. He was living with her and the police were called several times because of "disturbances". He managed to get her to put him on her cell phone plan and proceeded to ring up $1600 a month in charges. She had the smarts to kick him out several months ago but everything really came to a head over the holidays. Or in her words: "We just couldn't survive the joy."

We sat there- Kevin and I and Roy and Bobbi - stunned. How could we all be so fooled? was our first thought, followed quickly by OMG! Are you freaking kidding!?

Revelations are always interesting and often cringe worthy, as were many of these shared on this Fritini. We felt bad for our friend who was, herself, mortified, both by what she was telling us as well as the fact that she had allowed it to go on for as long as it did. We didn’t think any less of her because of it. We are a largely non-judgmental group, or at least we try to be. Fritinis are especially so. No topic is off limits, no embarrassment is unshared, no laughter is unkind, no argument tarnishes the fraternity. It's a special night of simply being with friends, always for the betterment of everyone.

We drank martinis and wine. We munched on appetizers and finally ate pasta and Caesar salad and garlic bread. And then it was over. It was about 1 am and we all felt better for the experience. It was cathartic as it always is.

But this morning, once we finally got up, sucked down some needed coffee and set off on our morning Cooper walk, we were largely silent, lost in thought. Finally Kevin said something about all of that stuff last night being really something. I nodded absently as I watched Cooper sniffing a flowering shrub. I always wonder if he even smells the flowers or if he just smells the legacy of dogs gone by. I suspect the latter. We walked on a bit further.

"We're kind of boring, aren't we?" I said more than asked. After all, it was a statement of fact. Kevin nodded.

We have a pretty set routine each day that only varies by the work that needs to be accomplished and sometimes not even that varies. We walk the dog in the morning and the evening, and we walk ourselves at mid-day. We eat dinner at the same time most nights, we watch reruns of SVU rather than first run sitcoms. We laugh and talk and spend an unusual amount of time together. We go out on Thursday nights and rarely any other night. We hardly ever leave Oak Park.

"Yeah," Kevin answered. "And I'm good with that."

Luckily so am I. Boring can be good as long as you like the person you're doing it with.

Just a little something to ponder on this post-Fritini. Happily living it out loud in our boring little lives.

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Let's go

by Lorin Michel Monday, January 14, 2013 8:58 PM

Somehow our walk-talk today turned to roller coasters. Kevin was recounting a story of taking his elderly parents to Disneyland when Justin was but a baby. His dad, Tom, had already had at least one heart attack, but after six bypasses, he was healthier than he’d been in a while. He was walking daily and eating better. Kevin asked him about riding the roller coaster, something Tom had always liked to do and Tom said he wanted to do it. They got in line for the Big Thunder Mountain Railway. As they got closer to getting on the ride, there was a sign: If you have a heart condition, you may want to reconsider. Kevin asked again: “Dad? You sure? We can exit right through that door.” Tom shook his head and grinned. “Let’s go!”

That’s how I’ve always felt about roller coasters. From the time I was little, and we would visit Kennywood Park in Pennsylvania, somewhere near Pittsburgh, I was ready to go. I loved the lurching motion, the slow mechanical climb toward the sky, the anticipation when the cars in front started to roll over to the other side and could no longer be seen. And the rapid descent that pulled my stomach into my throat even as I screamed gleefully and involuntarily, my hair being whipped around in a frenzy, my heart pounding. For a moment I was weightless, exhilarated. I’d catch my breath just long enough to begin the next mechanical climb and the next dash toward the earth until finally, the train of cars would pull back onto the platform and everyone would exit on the right side of the car while those waiting in line entered on the left side. Let’s go. Let’s go again.


Thompson's 1884 Switchback at Coney Island

Roller coasters are descended from something called Russian Mountains, specially constructed hills of ice around Saint Petersburg. They were built in the 1400s and 1500s, when slides became very popular with Russia’s upper class. Catherine II of Russia was such a fan that she had several built on her property. They appear to have been little more than toboggan hills.

Many historians say the first roller coasters, with wheels on the sleds or carts, were built in 1784 by order of James the III in the Gardens of Oreinbaum, also in Saint Petersburg. Others believe the first roller coasters were French as Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville and the Promenades Aeriennes both featured wheeled cars securely locked to a track, with guide rails to keep them on course, and to keep them careening off into wherever when the carts reached higher speeds. That was in 1812.

Today’s modern roller coasters owe their heritage to John G. Taylor of Baltimore who was issued the first patent for a switchback coaster, constructed at West Haven’s Savin Rock. The year was 1872. LaMarcus Thompson built a switchback railway at Coney Island in 1884, and became known as the father of the roller coast, not because he was the first to build one but because he was the first to promote one. Passengers from all over traveled to Coney Island in order to climb up a platform and ride a car down 600 feet of track. The speed carried them up to the top of another platform where the track was switched and the passengers took a return trip back to the original platform.


The Thunderbolt at Kennywood

In 1885, Phillip Hinkle introduced a complete circuit coaster with a lift hill and it became more popular than Thompson’s coaster. Both were at Coney Island. In 1886, Thompson patented a design to use dark tunnels with painted scenery, and “scenic railways” were soon found in amusement parks across the country.

Of course, the first official scenic railway actually happened in 1850, when the Mauch Chunk railroad was built. It was a downhill track used to deliver coal to what is now known as Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, but by 1872, thrill seekers were shelling out $.50 per ride.

The 1880s saw the introduction of the vertical loop and by 1895, The Flip Flap, at Sea Lion Park in Brooklyn, debuted, followed shortly thereafter by Loop-the-Loop at Olentangy Park in Ohio. The rides were dangerous, passengers suffered whiplash and loops were discontinued for decades.

The oldest operating roller coaster is Leap-the-Dips at Lakemont Park in Pennsylvania. It originally opened in 1902. The best-known historical roller coaster is probably The Cyclone, which opened at Coney Island in 1927. It was made of wood and is still operational, though it has been updated and upgraded. Many old wooden roller coasters are also still operational including the ones I rode at Kennywood when I was a kid. These were all ushered in during the first golden age of roller coasters, an age that ended during the Depression. But in 1972, The Racer was built at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio and the second golden age of coasters began. It continues to this day.

The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Space Mountain, all at Disneyland, are but three of the hundreds of roller coasters that can be found all around the world. Some are old, some are very modern, some I would ride in a minute, others I have no desire to board. Part of the thrill of the roller coasters of old was the simplicity of them, and the sheer joy of racing forward at what seemed to be phenomenal speeds. In actuality it was around 30 some miles per hour but the ride was always an adventure no matter how many times I went. This was the feeling that Kevin and his dad experienced so many years ago. It’s a feeling that says let’s have fun, let’s not look back, let’s go.

Perhaps, then, the roller coaster is just a great metaphor for living it out loud. 

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In perspective

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 27, 2012 8:50 PM

I was struck today with how often it is that we put things into perspective. The saying itself – put it “into perspective” – is usually a way to ask someone to think about what they’re doing, saying or even thinking and to do it, say it or think it differently. It doesn’t mean a person has to change their mind. It’s just a request to step back for but a moment and imagine.

It is another cold day here. Cooper and I walked for a mile or so this morning and it was only 38º. Crisp, chilly. Rain is coming in again; soon we’ll be drenched. But our little cold, rainy snap is nothing like the cold that the Midwest and Northeast are experiencing. My sister sent me a text earlier that they were just getting buried with snow.

It’s cold here and we’ve had a lot of rain but nothing like what they’ve experienced back there, with Hurricane Sandy and now the truth of winter.

Kevin has a bad cold that came on with a vengeance last night, this after blasting around in the damp vineyards of Santa Ynez yesterday, and spending too much time out in the cold and the rain with nothing on for warmth but his new hoodie. He doesn’t do sick well, not that anyone really does, but when he’s sick it’s as if the world must stop. It’s all simply too much to bear to have a stuffy nose and a bit of a headache. He’s currently sound asleep on the floor of my office, curled up with his head on a pillow and wrapped up in an afghan throw. Cooper, having just gone up to his dad and licked his face, is now curled up behind him. Cooper isn’t sick; he’s just showing empathy.

It’s warm and cozy here in my loft. I have music playing softly, still Winterscapes from Live365. It’s got a Celtic feel to it. The music is solstice/holiday oriented but none is blatant in its caroling. Perfect for my sickly husband who is now snoring softly.

I thought then of the homeless woman in Los Angeles who was also sleeping, albeit on a sidewalk bench, and who was set on fire last night by some thugs with nothing else to do. It puts cold and sick into perspective.

This morning, our Justin left. It seems as if we just picked him up at the airport, and today, we were journeying again to LAX. He’s working in New York for several weeks during his break between semesters, making some money, gathering even more experience for when he graduates. We stood amongst thousands of others in front of the American Airlines terminal at about 12:45, hugging him, telling how much we loved him, how proud we are, and then we watched as he turned, slung his backpack over his shoulder and, pulling his suitcase behind him, disappeared inside. We both fought back tears. We don’t know when we’ll see him again and we miss him.

This morning, my friend Lisa who lives in Hawaii with her husband and young son, Xander, posted the news that Xander’s cancer has returned. He’s just a little boy, and this is his second go-round. I was in tears again. It gave me perspective.

Today is my brother-in-law John’s birthday. He turns 50, and is celebrating quietly with just my sister and their two kids. Yesterday they were in the emergency room with Caden, my nephew, who had hurt his neck in gymnastics. A birthday today; an injury yesterday; the end of the year in just a few days more, a chance to do it all over again, to do it differently, to do it in a new way. Perspective.

Kevin’s oldest sister is fond of adding a twist to the saying that “God only gives you as much as you can handle.” She always follows it with “Then why are the mental health institutions so overflowing?” God doesn’t dole out stress and misery and heartache and colds and cancer. If something good happens, God isn’t responsible. If something bad happens, it isn’t because of whatever God you do or don’t pray to. This is perspective.

Perspective allows you to see what’s right in front of you juxtaposed with others, against others. Perspective allows for empathy, it encourages change. It is a new vision, renewed sight.

We all have a right to our own feelings, our own limitations. But neither means that we can’t step back from ourselves to try to experience what someone else is experiencing. While I can’t know right now what it is to have a child battling cancer, I can begin to imagine the fear of it; the hopelessness wrapped in the hope of it.

Perspective gives me the ability to take my life and put it in context. It is what it is and it is right now, with a slumbering husband and a dog keeping a watchful eye over us both, with my child flying east while another’s flies against fate. With a storm now dissipated and another on the way. We do what we do because we must. Many times there isn’t an option, no alternative. It is perspective that can give us the strength to persevere, and the courage to continue to celebrate living it out loud. 

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Reflections

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 25, 2012 9:43 PM

It is Christmas night and our day has been filled with presents and conversation, laughter and wine, good friends close and family far away, and our new boy, Cooper. It’s been lovely, a cool overcast day. We’ve had a fire burning all day, just enough to take the chill off, and music playing. Tonight, the four of us … Kevin, Justin, Cooper and me … are sitting on the couch watching In Excelsis Deo, the Christmas episode from the first season of The West Wing. We’re basking in the fabulousness of the day.

We got up early and walked Cooper. To him it was just an ordinary morning, evidently it was to others as well. There were many dogs and their parents out walking as well. When we returned, Justin was still in bed so we made coffee and fed Cooper. Soon enough, Justin’s door opened and downstairs he came. We filled our mugs, we lit the fire, and put on some music. We started to open some presents. Our ritual has always been the same. One person and one gift at a time. This allows us all to see what everyone has opened as they open it, to see the expression on faces. It takes a bit longer but it’s very worth it.

Cooper got his first toy around 9 o’clock, a plush Abominable Snowman from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special of so many decades ago. The toy, from my mother, was cute. It was also completely destroyed within 15 minutes. Shortly thereafter, we gave him another toy, this time Yukon Cornelius from the same show. This one lasted 20 minutes. It came from my sister’s dog, Lucky, and I texted a picture to Khris commemorating the toy’s untimely death. It was sad and hilarious.

We opened presents, we had more coffee and coffee cake, we went through our stockings, we cleaned up, all the while enjoying the spirit of the day. We’re not religious but there is something about the quiet joy of Christmas that makes me reflective.

My husband is the love of my life and each day we spend together is another day filled with happiness.

My son is an amazing young man. It’s so hard to believe he’s a senior in college, nearly 22. So smart, so funny, such a loving and kind person. I couldn’t be prouder.

My family is incredible. I miss them all the time; I love them. It’s that simple.

My friends are joyous.

My dog is adorable.

On this Christmas night, as I sit with my boys, I’m also remembering my beloved Maguire who would have been 16 today. I wear a remembrance of him around my neck, a sterling silver paw print with his name engraved on the back. Several times today I found myself wrapping my hand around it, found my memories drifting to him. I miss him.

But having Cooper has helped to heal the pain. He’s such a good boy.  

On this day, this Christmas 2012, I am celebrating my boys, my family, my friends; I’m reflecting on my life. I hope your day was filled with love and joy as well. 

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friendly celebrations | live out loud

The power of education comes into sight

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 23, 2012 11:22 PM

Justin is home for the holidays and it’s wonderful. He wasn’t home last year, for the first time, and it was a little strange. We were OK. We didn’t dissolve into a little mass of goo; we didn’t cry and whine and kick and scream. We still had our beloved Maguire and we decided to make a new tradition. We got up when we got up, we went for a walk, we put the Yule Log on television and Christmas tunes on the stereo, opened presents. But it wasn’t the same. This year, Justin really wanted to come home. It depended on how much time he had between finals and starting work. If it was only two or three days, it wouldn’t have made sense since he would need two of those days for travel. Luckily he finished finals early and he doesn’t start work until December 28th. He flew in on Friday night, after many delays first out of Buffalo and then out of Las Vegas where he changed planes. He was supposed to get in around 8; he finally got in after 10. We got home close to midnight. No time for visiting; we all went to bed.

Saturday, though, was a new day. He was up early and just relaxed for the day. Kevin and I had a Christmas party to go to. Justin was invited but we told him that he probably wouldn’t know anyone and since he was tired, and had traveled literally all day on Friday, staying home with Cooper might be more fun for him. It was, as always, his choice. He chose to remain home. We drove, we holiday’d, we drove back and then we made dinner last night for all of us. Barbecued ribs on the grill, garlic fries and white corn. Simple, but one of Justin’s favorite meals. I always try to make his favorite meals when he’s home.

As everything was cooking, he brought his computer down to the kitchen to show us some of his design work. We had never seen any of his designs before so this was new territory. He showed us two things: first his design for a morning scene and an evening scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He had a rendering of the stage, research boards to show the mood he was trying to create for both types of light, and finally, the light, using a drawing mannequin for his subject since he doesn’t draw and is the first to admit it.

It was so interesting to see it, with all of its intricate layouts and notations. The main portion of the design was large and involving; a panel on the left had all of the details written out, the position of the lights, the angles, the instructions, even a disclaimer. It was so professional. Kevin and I stood in awe. This was his lighting final for the semester, and he got a 98 out of 100. Wow.

Then we moved on to a CADD drawing. This was his Computer Aided Drafting and Design class and had more interesting notations and light placements, all based on something provided by a set designer.

We had no idea what we were looking at and yet it was fascinating. To hear him describe what he had created was exhilarating, to hear him talking about how all aspects of the theatre must work together in order to achieve the best for any given production was amazing. It’s ultimately what life is all about, working together, compromising, explaining, creating to make a production.

He spoke with passion about what he’s doing. He showed it off with pride, as well he should. And his dad and I could only stand there and marvel. At one point, Kevin looked at me and said, quoting the ever articulate George W. Bush: “Our children is learning.”

Indeed.

As parents, it is always fulfilling to see your kids excelling in their lives. As parents of a college student, it’s even more fulfilling to see your kid learning things you don’t know and thus fulfilling the enormous tuition bills you pay every six months. We were so proud and so excited to see everything he has learned, to be part of everything he knows.

I’m not going to preach as I don’t believe in it but I am thrilled to know that the power of education is still strong. It’s something we’ve always believed in and when we see it in action, in the guise of our son’s knowledge, in his passion, in his eyes, we celebrate.

It’s an amazing feeling. It’s the feeling of him living it out loud.

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live out loud

I'm an addict

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 16, 2012 10:13 PM

As a writer I love books. My house is full of them, with hundreds in my office alone filling two bookshelves, and stacked in nearly every corner. I have additional ones stacked on the desk. Downstairs I have 11 on the coffee table in the living room and another 20 or so stacked up next to the antique music stand. Most of those are books about different types of architecture or wine. There is the biography of Steve Jobs and several books on antique toys; one on a round-the-world motorcycle trip taken by the actor Ewan McGregor; another called Full Moon. On a chair is a book on the art of Vladimir Kush, one of our favorite surrealistic painters. On an ottoman there is a book on wizards.

The bedroom sports a stack of books in the space between my side of the bed and my nightstand; more still on the shelf of our credenza/dresser. In the kitchen there are multiple cookbooks as there are in many kitchens. There are 10 to the right of the cooktop; in the cabinet above, another 10. In the drawer next to the sink, another five or six, mostly paperbacks that I rarely use unless I need a temperature for cooking something like a roast. I rarely cook roast.

There are books in the garage, mostly auto repair and about different tools; tiling and painting.

Kevin’s office also boasts dozens of books, many stacked up in the corner near his desk, some under the credenza, others on a book shelf.  Like me, he still has at least one dictionary and thesaurus; like me he never uses them, but neither one of us can bring it upon ourselves to throw them away. Throwing away books is sacrilege, especially to a writer. Or a writer’s husband.

I have probably said this before but I am physically incapable of not having too many books. Is there such a thing as too many? I buy books on Amazon at an alarming rate. Many remain unread for years but it doesn’t stop me from buying them anyway. Some I start to read but don’t get very far. At any given time, I may have three or four books in progress. Sometimes it’s because I don’t really like them; sometimes it’s because I like them but don’t love them enough to devour them. And I can devour a book in one setting if it grabs me. This happens often with any Alice Hoffman book; it happened with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I literally can’t put the book(s) down for fear of not knowing what is going to happen. Then, at the end, while I’m sorry to bid farewell to characters I’ve come to know and sometimes love, I usually feel a sense of deep satisfaction. It’s similar to seeing a deeply effective film, something that doesn’t happen often enough. In fact, I’m not sure I can remember the last one I saw where I left the theatre thinking and feeling content, and wanting to talk about it. That’s, to me, the mark of a strong film. The last one Kevin and I talked about at length after seeing it may have been Cast Away.

I digress.

I can’t go into Barnes & Noble without leaving with a bag of books that cost a minimum of $100. It’s a sickness, an addiction. Hi, I’m Lorin and I’m a book addict. I have no intention of going into any kind of a 12-chapter program. I am perfectly happy to wallow in my addiction, to drown myself in pages and pages of words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters. I don’t want an intervention; I know it wouldn’t help because I’m not ready to surrender to the disease. It can’t hurt me; it can only expand my mind and fill my soul. It can’t destroy me; it can only make me stronger.

I am a book addict. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are a dozen or so books calling my name.

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