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. 

And they call it puppy love

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 17, 2012 10:35 PM

Regular readers know I’m a dog lover. Regular readers also know we lost our beloved Maguire almost two weeks ago. Time is helping though his presence is missed greatly as is his personality, his beautiful spirit, the sound of his tags hitting the floor as he rolled over or tapping the ceramics of his water or food bowl as he munched.

My friend Diane is a great friend to all creatures, especially those of the rescue-dog variety. She has long been active in the animal rights movement and has put in more than her share of years working to help neglected, abused and abandoned animals. She herself has two wonderful dogs: a poodle mix (at least I think he’s a mix) named Henri, a very distinguished little guy with curly white fur and big dark eyes, and Tommy, a pit bull with maybe a little boxer thrown in for good measure. He’s a stout little dude, sort of brown and white, with the large head – pumpkin head, Diane calls it – of a pit bull. But he exhibits none of the characteristics. He’s docile, gentle. And he’s having some joint issues so today he was hobbling around. Maybe it was the rain. Diane also has two cats, Fiona who’s black and Roswell who’s white.

Terrier mom

And in her garage, she fosters moms and their puppies until they’re all healthy and old enough to be adopted. She is one of the first calls for certain groups who patrol “kill shelters.” Evidently there are a number of shelters that quickly euthanize female dogs that arrive with tiny puppies in tow. Diane to the rescue. Dog bless her.

Her current litter is of the terrier and retriever persuasion. Or maybe it’s cocker spaniel. Either way, there’s a lovely and timid mom who has some terrier in her as well as something else, and her five rambunctious puppies. Diane emailed me earlier in the week, asking if maybe a romp with some little fur balls might help to ease some of our sorrow. I’ll admit, I was hesitant. Was it too soon? Even for bouncing, biting balls of fluff? I decided I could handle it without falling apart.

Kevin was going to come with me, but he’s been having a hard time the last few days. He misses his boy and sheepishly told me last night that he just doesn’t really want to see any dogs right now since he can’t see his own. I understand. We all process grief and loss differently.

Today was cold, windy and brutal with rain. Torrential at times, it bounced off of our street, blasted the roof of the house, knocked incessantly at the windows to be allowed in. I did some Saturday morning things around the house, changed the sheets, did some laundry, washed the wine glasses that don’t go into the dishwasher and collect, instead, on the counter. Showered, put on a little makeup, pulled on jeans, a sweater and boots, and off I went.

Waiting to come play

Driving east on the 101, the rain clouds were heavy and black, nearly touching the road in front of me. To the north, the sun was streaming through, glinting off the wet pavement. I exited at Laurel Canyon, went north and within minutes I was in front of Diane’s house.

I had packed up all of Maguire’s food and cookies. We didn’t want to just throw it away and with all of the dogs lucky enough to stay with her and Gene even for a short while, we thought she might be able to use it. It was Kevin’s idea; it was a good one. She met me at the car and I handed her a huge bag filled with dry food bags, unopened canned food, and dog cookies. She gave me a hug and we started toward the garage where she keeps the puppies, walked in and there they were, all lined up, ready for some puppy love.

It was just what I needed, to sit on an old fleece blanket on the cement floor and have five squiggly, wriggly puppies climb on me, claw at me, bite on me and hop around aimlessly on the floor, fall over, crawl over and yip and elicit quietly ferocious puppy growls as they rolled all over each other. For an hour their energy level was high, and then, they were done. Two of them snuggled up on my lap and started to snooze. Mom disappeared behind the kennel to get away from them, one tried in vain to keep his eyes open and the other two curled up on Diane. These little warm bodies, barely six weeks old, taking short little breaths, creating a surprising amount of heat.

On my lap

I felt some of the sorrow leave my own body. There was something cathartic about spending a couple of hours in the presence of new life. It didn’t diminish the loss of Maguire – I know we will always miss him – but it did reinforce the truth that life goes on. Today, life was embodied in these five little dudes and their mom. Tomorrow, who knows?

As I drove home with the sun once again glaring down through the rain, making it nearly impossible to see the road, I smiled. I miss my boy terribly; he still breaks my heart. But tomorrow will be better.

And today, there were puppies.

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live out loud

Into the sunset

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 3, 2011 11:11 PM


I’ve never known any real cowboys, only those in the movies, and most of them are like cartoon characters. I’ve read and studied quite a bit, though, and I appreciate how the real cowboys worked in the old days of the west and how many still do. It’s a calling, I imagine, like anything else, and a tough life. Long days in the hot sun, long nights under a sky carpeted with stars, cold early mornings and a lot of loneliness. But the beauty of the western landscape would make it worth it and I suspect it’s one of the reasons many chose and choose the life. Stretches of barren plains, the hard unforgiving earth ready to wash away at even a hint of rain, rolling hills made treacherous by rocks and loose vegetation, all spreading out as far as the eye can see. There are no houses, no towns, no cities. No urban sprawl or hip-hop music blasting from passing cars; no true modern amenities. Cowboys still sleep under the sky.

I thought about that today as we drove west across the Sonoran desert, heading home from Tucson. It’s flat and bleak, with a blight of asphalt jungle, the 10 freeway, running through it for hundreds of miles. That’s the only hint we were in the 21st century as much of the landscape is still untouched, largely uninhabitable because of the terrain and the heat. So much of it seems to be in the middle of nowhere. Occasionally we’d see an abandoned structure, the windows long broken by who knows what, perhaps sand storms or driving monsoons. It would sit impossibly low, as if no one could truly stand up inside. Maybe it was just our perspective from the road. There were no doors, no clutter, no rusting metal tools or cars; just a building that someone resurrected once upon a time and then left to whither in the unforgiving desert heat. I wondered who, and then we were past.

We drove on, direction due west, on our steel horse, the cruise control set at 82, trying to beat the sun. It always seemed to be just beyond our reach, moving further and further down in the sky no matter how fast we went. Finally we stopped trying and settled in for the ride and its beauty.

Jack Kerouac wrote a novel, published in 1957, called On the Road about two friends, Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise who meet in 1947 New York City and begin three years of restless journeys back and forth across the country searching for adventure, for truth and for passion. It was an autobiographical work with a stream of consciousness style. An acquired taste to be sure. Kerouac was part of the Beat Generation, writers who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity. Most Beatnik writers like Kerouac were inspired by other writers like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, also non-conformists who sought to change how the world thought, acted and reacted through commentary, analysis and poetry. The poet William Carlos Williams was also a big influence. His poem The Dance is one my all time favorites.

Writers like Kerouac were dedicated to respecting the land and indigenous peoples and creatures, much like today’s cowboys. (The old children’s game of cowboys and Indians notwithstanding.) Kerouac’s own description of On the Road was that “the Earth is an Indian thing,” meaning rich in history, in culture, in what’s real. In some ways, it’s horribly naïve; in others, it’s exquisitely beautiful and introspective. That’s what the cowboys have always gotten right: the idea that truth is in the land, in nature. It is all around us, still waiting to be absorbed and appreciated and loved.

Tonight, we’re back in California with our beloved Maguire. We have the windows open and the air is cool. Crickets are chirping and we’ve opened a bottle of Arizona wine, a Syrah made by Kief-Joshua. It has hints of dust and the sunset, of deep pomegranate and desire. A perfect wine to drink this night, with the stars blanketing the sky and the earth and the memory of the desert still in our minds and hearts.

When we close our eyes we’ll see the fire of the sun as it drifted toward the horizon, changing from white hot to bright yellow to orange to red as it sizzled into the sea, extinguishing its heat as it pulled the sky over for cover. We’ll relive our journey and rejoice.

“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.” Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Part 1, Chapter 7.

The roads oft traveled

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 22, 2011 11:43 PM

We live in Southern California, car central. Everyone who lives in this area not only has a car, they usually have several. 1.8 per person in LA. We have three plus a motorcycle though one of the cars is actually Justin’s even though it’s registered to us. In LA, one car or more is almost essential because the city and the county is so spread out. It’s nearly 503 square miles from the sea to San Bernardino County to the east, Orange County to the south and Ventura County to the north. It’s fat, not tall, and fat requires a means to get from one end to the other, regardless of which end you’re visiting. It also requires traversing the many freeways (21 in Los Angeles, with 3.8 million cars traveling them each day), highways (eight) and side streets (thousands).

Our roads in general are some of the worst in the country according to Business Insider. Only Rhode Island’s top us for bottoming out. Twenty eight percent of our roads are in bad condition and 13 percent of our bridges are “structurally deficient.” Because the roads are so bad, it costs about $746 more each year in general maintenance to have each car operate properly. Speaking as one who travels many of those roads fairly often, I concur. There are gaps between the edges of cement overpasses and tarred roadway, raised metal bands, holes from too much weight and too little attention, buckled pavement and just bad surfaces. And that’s just the freeways. Venture onto side streets and it becomes a virtual obstacle course, dodging holes big enough for children to swim in, if we had any water, and pavement raised up by weather, tree roots and general neglect. It’s not uncommon for a road to seem like it’s buckling under the weight of its responsibility.

I know how it feels.

The California Department of Transportation, affectionately known as CalTrans, tries to keep up with the problems, and when there’s a serious breach of concrete or tar, they’re usually there fairly quickly to plug the hole with a few fingers, to shore up the break with some chewing gum and a hardhat. Hey, whatever works.

The roads directly around our house are absolutely abominable. There’s one stretch of Hawthorne that runs by our little neighborhood park, Indian Springs, that couldn’t be more dilapidated and horrific if it tried. It’s been patched so many times the patches have patches. There are cracks wide enough that you need a cross-bridge to get to the other side. What pavement is left has basically crumbled into large gray crumbs. Or boulders. As you drive through you have to pick your way gently so as not to destroy your car’s suspension. Bigger cars fair better because they have more space to absorb the shock, but smaller cars and especially sports cars take their little fiberglass lives into their hands. We avoid this stretch of road at all costs, even picking our way through another neighborhood in order to not subject the car or our nerves to the misery.

Today, we got a notice on our door that the Sully Miller Contracting Company will be doing street repairs, concrete repairs, street resurfacing and restriping for the next seven days. They’ve been hired by the Transportation Department of the Public Works Agency. We’re hoping they’re not just going to do the street in front of the house because the street in front of the house is mostly fine. But if they can find it in their little public works contracting hearts to resurface that nasty little stretch of Hawthorne, the Michel household, and the many who often travel that road, will be celebrating.

I guarantee it.

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live out loud

Road trip

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 16, 2011 8:38 PM


I love to drive, to get in the car and head off on an adventure, with enough clean clothes to last as long as necessary, some healthy snacks, lots of water, the navigation system and tunes. Must have enough tunes to load up the 6-CD changer at least four or five times. These days of course, road trips are more expensive because of the gas prices. I filled up the Range Rover the other day and it was $4.49/gallon. Luckily we don’t drive much during the week so we can afford to keep our beautiful gas-guzzler, but when we load it up and fill ‘er up for the road, we almost need to take out a loan.

We’re in the midst of planning our next road trip to Tucson, probably in mid-June, but in the interim, we took a little jaunt east today, just for the day, and found ourselves in areas that used to be part of the quintessential American road trip: Route 66.

The Mother Road, as proclaimed by author John Steinbeck in 1939’s The Grapes of Wrath, was one of the original interstate highways and established on November 11, 1926. It started in Chicago and ran slightly south to Missouri, then west through Kansas and Oklahoma before dipping south again through northern Texas, and then west once more through New Mexico, Arizona and into California, ending in downtown Los Angeles. It covered 2,448 miles and became a major travel route for those migrating west during the depression and the dust bowl of the 1930s, when severe drought conditions finally caught up with the decades of extensive farming without any crop rotation. The ground literally dried up and with no rain to tamp it down or deep-rooted grasses to trap moisture, the winds whipped through the Midwest and into the southwest, sending clouds of dust and sand into the air. Migrant workers were forced from jobs and homes, and they headed west, toward the promised land of California.

The road itself used to be gravel and dirt. In 1938, it became the first highway to be completely paved. Because the road passed through a number of small towns, and with traffic increasing, many service stations, restaurants and motor courts sprung up. Though the highway itself was mostly flat, there were several areas where dangerous curves earned it nicknames like “bloody 66.” By 1950, Route 66 was one of the most popular roads for trips to LA. It passed through the Painted Desert, Grand Canyon and Meteor Crater in Arizona, where teepee-shaped motels, Indian curio shops and reptile farms popped up, open for business.

Route 66 has been romanticized over the years, in song and show. In addition to being the Mother Road, it was also known as the Will Rogers Highway after the late humorist and even called the Main Street of America. It personified the great American tradition of the road trip, a tradition that began in 1903 when Nelson Jackson, Sewall Crocker and a dog named Bud drove from San Francisco to New York. It took 63 days and cost $8000. Road trips these days are an art form, necessitating the right gear, electronics and more all of which must be readily available to those tripping across highways and bi-ways, even along the once mighty Route 66. Today known as Historical Route 66.

Unfortunately, as other highways were built, Route 66’s relevance faded somewhat and it was officially decommissioned in 1985. But today, in Pasadena, we went by the Colorado Street Bridge. It was built in 1913 and became part of Route 66 in 1926 until the Arroyo Seco Parkway (today’s 110 Freeway) opened in 1940. It’s a majestic piece of art, architecture, sculpture and strength. It’s the past and the present together, standing tall in tensile steel and concrete under art deco lamps. It’s worthy of any road trip, and definitely a place where you can get your historic kicks.


live out loud

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