Having a wonderful. Wish you were.

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 16, 2013 9:47 PM

I was born and raised in the Northeast. The furthest south I got was Maryland where we lived for my freshman year of high school. We spent almost a year there, but it wasn’t far enough south that we didn’t get snow. In fact, if memory serves, we got quite a bit of snow. One of my closest friends still lives there and she regales me with snowdrift tales on a regular basis.

Most of high school was spent in New Hampshire, and by the time I went to college, I was starting to get a bit tired of the brutal New England winters, which of course explains why I went to the University of New Hampshire. UNH is located in the small town of Durham, in the southeastern part of the state, nearly on the border of southern Maine. We spent many nights and weekends playing in the bars of Portsmouth, the gateway into Maine, and a lovely little town. It’s often called the San Francisco of the northeast. It’s right on the Atlantic, has hills that rise and fall – though none as steep as those in the City by the Bay – and has fabulous places to eat. Many days were spent on the rock-crusted, cold-even-in-summer beaches.

My winters at UNH were spent trying to keep my boots dry and my feet warm as I trudged through snow and slush to class, slipping on hidden ice and generally cursing whatever gods were responsible. I graduated on a Saturday in May of 1984, with a Bachelor of Arts in English, Creative Writing, and left exactly one week later to drive myself across the country.

All my life I knew I wanted to be out West, so I pointed my 1979 Toyota Celica hatchback in the direction of Southern California. It didn’t occur to me to go anywhere in between. While I wanted to get out of New England, I didn’t want to be too far from an ocean; I just preferred an ocean that lapped at a warmer coastline.

I have a soft spot for the last remnants of waves as they spill onto the sand after first crashing with authority onto the water just off shore. That part of the wave is angry, but all of its bluster is gone when it finally inches onto land where some of it sinks into already saturated sand and the rest is pulled back out to sea. It’s one of the most soothing sights and sounds on this earth.

Recently I was invited to post some of my past blog meanderings on the Dwellable travel site. It was there that I discovered their new app for iPhone and iPad, of which I have both. So I downloaded it for fun, not expecting much other than the usual type-in-what-you’re-looking-for-and-wait-for-the-site-to-find-it, if it exists. I touched the icon on my iPhone and immediately I was treated to lapping waves on the sand, spilling clear and beautiful, one after the other. I smiled. This app had me at hello.

I’m not much of an app fiend. I only download the ones that I think I really need, like a flashlight app and Houzz, though I can’t say I absolutely positively need Houzz. It’s more of a fun app. With Dwellable I also have a very cool app, one that travels the country much like I once did.

For years now, whenever we go anywhere, Kevin and I find a house or condo to stay in rather than a hotel, with few exceptions, Chicago being one. We always stay at The Fairmont. I have nothing against hotels; I just like having a kitchen. Also, I like the quiet of a house versus shared, noisy hallways at 2 am. When Justin was young and we traveled to Hawaii (twice) and Mexico (twice), we found condos to rent. Our reasoning was simple: it was easier and cheaper to get up in the morning and make breakfast “at home.” We could also easily pop back for lunch and snacks. When we went to Maine several summers ago with my sister’s family, we rented cabins. When Kevin and I have gone wine tasting, up to Napa Valley as well as to Paso Robles, we always rent a house because we taste wine all day, which is tiring. The last thing we want to do is go out for dinner, so we buy food at the local grocery and cook. It’s the perfect night to a perfect day.

Dwellable offers homes, condos and guesthouses for rent in cities and towns from Maine to San Diego, even Hawaii. Their new app allows for finding those dwellings even when you’re on the road. It couldn’t be easier.

Atop the lapping waves is a simple search box that asks “where are you going?” Type in a destination and see what they have available. I put in Napa Valley since I was in the mood for a little wine and a number of offerings instantly appeared, neatly organized, with a picture, a price and rental name. I clicked on one called Wine Taster’s Estate because I’m a snob and I got a new page with pictures, amenities, a phone number and a website to visit should I require more information. The app has a dateboard to show availability for where and when you want to stay, a photo link and a map feature that shows exactly where your rental choice is located within the city/area you’ve chosen.

Unfortunately, Dwellable doesn’t have maps for all locations. They also don’t have a dateboard for all locations, especially for those that are new. It would be nice to have that feature, but at least the app is contrite about it, saying “Sadly, we don’t know the exact map location for any of these rentals.” It is sad. But not a deal breaker.

It’s easy to navigate and very fast. I kept touching Home just so I could go back to the waves. My only wish was that there was sound. Oh, well. Maybe on the next version. Still, it made me want to go somewhere, anywhere, to get away. Maybe back to Maui, something on Wailea, where the turquoise blue water fades to clear as it kisses the white sand. I have a rum and pineapple in my hand, the sun is warm, the breeze tickles and the Pacific is endless.

Having a wonderful. Wish you were … 

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live out loud

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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live out loud

Evidently 350AD was a good vintage

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 26, 2013 10:25 PM

I am a wino. There. I said it. I’m not at all ashamed; in fact, I’m proud. Wine to me is art and magic and creativity and wonder, all swirling in a glass. I’m partial to red, will drink the occasional white and rarely even sip a rosé to taste. However, rosés aren’t what they used to be which was White Zinfandel or worse. Sickeningly sweet to the point of gagging is how I found most of them. Lately, there have been some interesting experiments with rosés, including a rosé Malbec that we tried last week. It was dry and smooth. Not wonderful enough to entice us to buy a bottle but nice enough for a taste. I still prefer that my wine have all of its color.

Which leads me to the subject of today’s post. Evidently there is a wine at the Pfalz Historical Museum in Germany that was discovered in 1867, buried with a Roman noble near the city of Speyer. It is dated to the year 350AD. It sort of looks red though I can’t be sure. Those in the know say it is white. Who knows how old the bottle is but the wine is over 1650 years old. It was sealed with wax and contains wine-type liquid. Some in Germany are debating whether or not to open it; the museum’s wine department has said that they’re not sure the liquid could stand the shock of fresh air. A wine professor named Monika Christmann has indicated that “micro-biologically it is probably not spoiled.” But she doesn’t think it would bring much joy to the palate.

Perhaps the splash of olive oil included has helped to keep it from turning to vinegar. After all, oil and vinegar don’t mix.

I wonder what would happen if actual wine was found in the world’s oldest winery believed to be more than 6,100 years ago. Discovered in the caves of Armenia, by archeologists from the University of California, jars and drinking cups carved from animal horns were found. They believe that the Copper Age vintners stomped grapes with their feet, just like Lucy did in I Love Lucy goes to Italy. The Ancient Armenians fermented the juice in huge clay vats, all of which was found along with fossilized grape seeds and skins. Interestingly, there is a site nearby that is believed to be a place of burial suggesting that early wine making might have been part of the funeral proceedings, perhaps dedicated to the dead, or maybe inspired by the dead.

There were also bodies discovered in the Armenian wine-making cave, eight to be exact, including a child. The thought is that mourners may have sipped wine to perhaps honor the dead, or maybe to appease the spirits. Wine may have even been used to sprinkle on the graves, but that seems like a horrible waste of good grape juice.

When I come across stories like this I am forever amazed that the more things change the more they remain the same. Sixty one hundred years ago, ancient peoples were making and drinking wine. At the beginning of the calendar, in 350AD, people were making and drinking wine. In our garage right now we are making wine that we will one day be drinking.

Maybe that means that one day, in the far off future, archeologists will be excavating the earthquake-created faults where there was once Southern California. They’ll find small barrels of French and American oak, or at least the remnants of, and glass carboys. They may find a bottle but probably not, and they’ll discover a label, old, tattered, buried in the rubble of what used to be Oak Park. After painstakingly restoring it, they’ll find that it say Michel Cellars and they’ll know that once, long ago, when there was a California, there were people who made wine in this small suburb.

Meanwhile, in their ocean front property in Tucson, Arizona, nestled up against the cliffs of the Catalina Foothills, the descendants of the Michels will raise a glass and toast to a very good vintage. 

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live out loud

John Mason

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, February 6, 2013 7:57 PM

Nearly four decades ago, I met a girl who was destined to become a lifelong friend, a soul mate. We were both freshman in high school, in Columbia, Maryland and we had only one year together before my family moved from Maryland to New Hampshire. We kept in touch though, seeing each other only once or twice, and again during college, and then lost touch. We reconnected after several years, she came to my first wedding, my first husband and I visited her and her husband once in the late 1980s, and then we lost touch again. Three years ago, in late December of 2009, we found each other on Facebook and it was as if no time had elapsed. I had gotten rid of the first husband by then and was much happier with husband number two; she still had husband number one. She had gotten it right on the first try.

We exchanged emails for a while, long tomes about our lives and all that had transpired in the decades we’d been apart. We eventually talked on the phone, for hours each time, and then when I was going back east over a 4th of July, I detoured to Baltimore to see her. She picked me up at the airport and I stayed with her and her husband just one night. He cooked a magnificent meal of salmon, veggies and roasted potatoes, and then he went to bed so that she and I could stay up half the night talking. I left the next day.

A year and a half later – just last February – they surprised me by being part of my birthday celebration in Paso Robles. We all drank too much wine, ate too much food, got too little sleep and had too much fun laughing and enjoying. That was the last time I saw him.

Pam and John

John Mason died this morning. I got a text from his wife, my beloved friend, Pam, saying simply that he had passed surrounded by family, that she couldn’t talk. I don’t know the details. I know he had suffered from heart issues, as well as other problems. He was healthy otherwise though, strong, loved to ski and was often found at their salon fixing what needed to be fixed, doing what needed to be done.

He had been a hairdresser by profession, and he and Pam had opened Mason & Friends in Columbia, Maryland many, many years ago. Twenty-five years her senior, they were perfectly compatible, sharing a passion for intelligence, family and friends; good food and good times. They also shared a passion for the Baltimore Ravens. It was fitting somehow, serendipitous even, that the Ravens won the Super Bowl just three days ago. When they beat the Patriots to earn a trip to New Orleans, I was disappointed. Why had the Pats played so badly? Now I know. It was so that John – Mason to Pam and his friends – could see them win.

I wish I had known him better but I knew him well enough to know that he loved Pam, and that told me so much about him and his character, told me all I needed to know.

What I will remember most about him is his voice. It’s what I remember so much about others who have passed. The difference is that his voice was always in the background when I talked to Pam, when it was bedtime for them and still hardly dinnertime for me. I would hear him calling for one of their cats to come in for the night.

"Harley!" Pause. "Harley!"

It always made me smile. I’m smiling now at the memory. I’m smiling through the tears.

Mason, enjoying the afternoon sun at Austin Hope winery, February 2012

Celebrating the life and love of John Mason. He will be missed by all.

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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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live out loud

Let me be perfectly franc

by Lorin Michel Friday, January 11, 2013 10:46 PM

We like wine. Nothing especially earth-shattering or revelatory about that statement. We primarily like reds. Rarely does a white get past our lips. We just don’t care for the taste or the lightness of being that often accompanies a white. Yes, a chardonnay can be deeply honey colored and taste of oaky butter, making it a bit more substantial than, say, a sauvignon blanc or a pinot grigio. Still. We have nothing against these wines, not really. They just don’t fit our palette.

We like big, fat, tannic, hair-on-your-chest, stand-a-fork-up-in-them red wines. Syrahs are a favorite, especially syrahs from Santa Ynez and especially from Zaca Mesa. They make a Mesa Reserve that is so exquisitely deep and inky, both in color and flavor, you don’t even want to eat lest you spoil the taste of the wine. Ditto their Black Bear Block syrah. These are their top of the line, Black Bear Society wines. You can’t find these in most stores; they’re reserved for club members and the winery. Their regular syrahs are nearly as wonderful. They have an added note of sage and some other spice that is so subtle and yet so powerful, you just want to sniff and sip all night long.

Syrahs are a small, tight, round, dark purple grape that makes big, bold, dark purple wine.

But let me be perfectly franc. Syrah is only one of the varietals that we have come to treasure. The other is a Cabernet Franc and believe it or not, these are even harder to come by. Evidently it is a stubborn grape to grow and the fruit is small and biting. In the wrong hands it can be bitter. In worse hands it can lose all of its peppery, deep forest flavor. We’ve been on a quest of late to find a really good one. Several years ago, we discovered Niner, a winery up in Paso Robles. They have a Cab Franc, especially their 2007, that is velvety smooth with a dangerous taste. We have one or two still in the cellar; we drink them sparingly. When we were up there in December, we bought their 2008. Not quite as good since 2008 wasn’t quite as good a harvest, but still luscious.

Another new favorite is also from Paso Robles and it’s from a winery called Sculpterra. As the name implies, it’s a winery that makes its grounds home to some amazing sculptures. Huge bronze jaguars lounge in trees; a bronze horse rears up toward the sky. As you walk through the sculpture maze into the winery, it’s hard to keep your mouth closed, such is the awesomeness of what your eyes are taking in. Inside, the tasting room is equally sculptured, with a metal studded counter that wraps around wine racks behind. They don’t have a big case production – less than 5000 if memory serves – but what they make is extraordinary. One of our new favorites was their Cabernet Franc.

Smooth, subtle, thick, with the telling notes of pepper and cassis, blueberry and burnt maple syrup. When we went to their Christmas open-house, they were tasting all of their wines. Bobbi and I drank only their Cab Franc.

Cabernet Franc is a black-skinned grape, native to France. It is actually quite famous in one of the most famous wine-producing countries in the world, known as the third grape of Bordeaux and found in many of top Bordeaux blends. It’s primarily used in blends because it has a medium body and sports vegetal characteristics, like green peppers. As a grape, it is sometimes compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. Interestingly Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Recent profiling has also shown that Cabernet Franc is one of Merlot’s parents. I’d want to see a bit more evidence of that before I believe it.

The grape made its debut in the Libournais region of southwest France in the 17th century when Cardinal Richelieu transported cuttings of the vine to the Loire Valley. They were planted at the Abbey of Bourgueil under the care of an abbot named Breton, whose name became associated with the grape. Known as Bouchet, Cab Franc was making quality wines by the 18th century. That’s when it got together with Sauvignon Blanc to create Cabernet Sauvignon.

It’s been called the grape that’s hiding in plain sight because it’s fruity and austere, approachable and complex. Highly drinkable because it often has lower acidity, less harsh tannins, and rich color extraction. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for us.

We love Cabernet Sauvignon. Now we know why. And perhaps even more importantly, we know why we’ve become so enamored with Cabernet Franc. It’s what Cabernet Sauvignon was before it was Cabernet Sauvignon. 

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live out loud

In the love

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 31, 2012 8:30 PM

I’m not going to get all gooey and slobbery here, but somehow the topic of what love is came up today and it got me to thinking. Maybe it’s because it’s New Year’s Eve; maybe it’s because I’m feeling emotional, as I often do when the old year rolls so easily into the new. I’m always amazed that there isn’t more angst, more raging about how not enough has been accomplished and how it can’t be time to start another year. Not yet, not now. It’s not ready!

Oh, wait. Maybe that’s me who’s not quite ready to roll so easily into the new, especially because I have so many things unfinished from this current year. I could dig in my heels but I doubt it would do much good. Time will pull me, even if I’m kicking and screaming the whole time. There is no stopping it. Just like there is no stopping love.

See what I did there? I made a nice rounded-curve transition back to my topic at hand.

Love happens, often when we least expect it, almost always when we’re not looking for it. That’s what happened when I met the man who would become my first husband. I picked him up hitchhiking (which wasn’t that dangerous back then, and we were in a small town and the person I was with recognized him). I was 18 and he was tan. Funny how what you think love is when you’re 18 isn’t what love is at all.

It happened again when I met Kevin for a drink that one fateful March 22. I already knew him so love was the farthest thing from my mind. I remember well getting the phone call from Bobbi asking me what I thought of Kevin Michel. I believe my answer was “not much.” Ha. Little did I know that love would follow within a few short weeks. I rolled easily from being single into being “in a relationship,” and never looked back.

Love is realizing you’ve met the one person who truly gets you, who has a similar sense of humor and sarcasm. Love is what happens when you’re mature enough to realize what love is. 

Love is a beautiful puppy who gave himself the name Maguire when he put his tiny black nose into the center console of our car on the drive home from the shelter, and pulled out a dollar bill. I had never raised a dog before and this one changed my life. Love is discovering you’re a dog person.

Maguire broke our hearts when he died in March after he suffered massive and irreparable seizures. Love is having the strength to say good-bye.

Love is a red-headed step-son who has always been more of the latter and none of the former. It’s meeting a four-year old and helping raise him, going through the tough times of high school, and seeing him become a wonderful young man. Love is not labeling him anything but what he is: my kid.

Love is re-discovered friends who have grown along with you even if you haven’t seen them for decades. Love is knowing they were there, and finding out they still are.

Love is friendship that is easy and joyous, through laughter and tears and w(h)ine. It’s knowing that certain people are always always always your friend.

Love is my sister and her remarkable attitude, her graciousness, her kindness; her sense of humor. My niece, my nephew, my brother-in-law; my brother; my mother; my Aunt Barbara and Corky; my great Aunt Beryl who’s in the hospital but hopefully not for long. It’s watching everyone grow older and not caring a whit that we all have lines; that we’re all a little heavier (except for Diane. My friend: how the hell do you do that?)

My new love is Cooper. I wondered if I could fall for another dog, after Maguire. I liked Cooper but for a couple of weeks I actually wondered if maybe I’d made a mistake, if maybe it was too soon. I didn’t and it wasn’t. The last two weeks, something happened. I don’t know what it is, but Cooper seemed to finally settle into his new name and his new life, and we seemed to finally and completely embrace a new four-legged friend. Maguire was our vintage puppy; Cooper is our pre-owned boy.

Love is my dog’s wet nose as he herd’s me through the house.

Cleaning up the kitchen when the other has cooked, or cleaning up the kitchen even if you’re the one who cooked. That’s love. 

Being content to watch an NCIS marathon on a Sunday afternoon, and enjoy it. That’s love.

Love is a glass of soul deep syrah from Zaca Mesa, or inky dark Petite Verdot from Trahan.

Love is spending the rest of your life with someone you want to kill and not doing it because you’d miss them. (That’s from Bobbi; love is … that)

Love is whatever you want it to be. It can even be the new year and all of the mystery that it holds. Let it drag you kicking and screaming, or smiling and laughing. Let it unravel to be whatever it will be. Let it be a night filled with love and 365 days filled with whatever your version of love is. Because that’s what’s important. That’s life. Celebrate it at midnight and always.

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live out loud

Santa Claus is coming to my dining room table

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 19, 2012 8:18 PM

Once upon a time, somewhere in the 4th century, there was a man who lived in southwestern Turkey. He was known as the Bishop of Myra and was credited with a number of miracles mostly involving sailors and children. After his death, he became the patron saint of both groups as well as for unmarried girls. He was also given his own day of feast, initially celebrated on December 6th, and his name became Saint Nicholas.

After Pope Julius I decided to assign December 25th as the official celebration of the birth of Jesus, attempting to Christianize what had until then been the date of a pagan midwinter festival, Saint Nicholas’s day of feast also was moved to December 25th for consolidation purposes and the connection was established. A tradition soon developed that had Saint Nicholas visiting the homes of small children on the eve of December 24th. Eventually Saint Nicholas became Sinter Klaas who became Sancte Claus and finally Santa Claus.

It wasn’t until 1810 that Santa Claus was shown – in a drawing by Alexander Anderson – depositing toys in children’s stockings that had been hung by the fireplace. Soon he had transportation, desperately needed in order to reach all of those children, in the form a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, at least according to the song. He moved to the North Pole, thanks to cartoonist Thomas Nast, who was commissioned to do a series of drawings for Harper’s Weekly starting in 1862.Nast also is credited with creating the toy-building workshop and for the naughty or nice mantra. As for his lovely red and white outfit, it was Norman Rockwell who dressed Mr. Claus for a 1921 cover of The Country Gentleman magazine. By the time Coca-Cola showcased its famous depiction of the man in the red suit, his colors had already been well established.

I write all of this because I am a Santa Claus fan, especially when it comes to decorating our house for the holidays. I’m not one of those people who get out of control when it comes to decorating. In fact, I think I’m pretty tame by many standards. Outside, we hang some white lights in several of the trees and shrubs leading up to the front door. Two small white-light laced Christmas trees guard the entrance to the walkway and over the garage door, white icicle lights twinkle. I also put a wreath on the front door. It, too, has white lights. It’s actually quite subdued and lovely.

Inside, we have a 7-foot artificial tree decorated with grape-cluster lights; at the top is a Santa. A heart-shaped Wine Lover sign hangs from his mittened hand. Naturally, stockings are hung by the chimney, and placed strategically throughout the living and dining room are my Byers’ Choice Carolers. I’ve been collecting these wonderful little hand-painted, hand-assembled singers since the late 1980s and have currently amassed at least 30. Almost all are dressed in Dickensian England attire. There are men boldly singing, others singing while holding Christmas trees, still others with ice skates. There is a chimney sweep and his apprentice (naturally, they’re on the fireplace mantle above the stockings). There are children and dogs and cats. There is a woman selling wreaths and an old Christmas witch. And there is my finished collection of A Christmas Carol, all first edition, with Scrooge and Marley’s ghost, the three ghosts (of past, present and future), Bob Cratchet, Tiny Tim and Mrs. Cratchet, Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, the boy with the goose, and a redemptive Scrooge with Christmas presents. They are arranged on my music cabinet, complete with another Caroler wearing a sandwich board for “A Christmas Carol.”

When Kevin completed my collection several years ago, we almost didn’t know what to do. For years, every Christmas, his goal was to find another missing piece of the story, again as a first edition. He’d buy from sellers on ebay as well as in different stores across the country. He’d start in September, making phone calls. With the last Caroler – we think it was Mrs. Fezziwig – we looked at each other. He enjoyed the hunt; I love the Carolers. Now what?

I had bought myself a Santa Caroler years before, and my brother had bought me a Santa in a sleigh being pulled by a single reindeer. A new collection of Santas, also first edition, began. They are from all different times, wearing any number of Santa-approved outfits. They now grace the dining room table. I have six plus an elf plus a really big Santa in the background. Several years ago, my mom and sister sent me another big Byers’ Choice-type Santa who had previously been used only for display in stores. He stands, as big as a small child, on an antique wine box in the entrance way, welcoming visitors.

Santa Claus may be coming to your town but as far as I’m concerned he’s coming to my dining room table, and I’m thrilled to see him. In any incarnation.

I see grape clusters everywhere

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 22, 2012 9:54 PM

Not to beat a dead topic to death but on the subject of grapes, since clusters have really taken over our lives the last week, I’d like to say this: I see them everywhere. On the field behind the referee during the Sunday Night Football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the lights of the city as we drive through, in the high clouds captured just as the sun goes down. In my garage. In my refrigerator. In my dreams. Every. Single. Night.

I suppose there are worse things to dream about. In fact, I know there are worse things, like one of those anxiety dreams where there are people living in my new house and I don’t know any of them. Or where I’m back in college and trying to find an English Literature class but I can’t locate the room and when I do, I haven’t been there all semester and I’m going to fail and the building doesn’t look remotely familiar.

I digress.

Where was I? Ah. Yes. Seeing small round, somewhat edible things on tiny branches. I suppose it’s somewhat normal that I’m seeing grapes everywhere since my house smells like a winery. Not that I’m complaining. But I’m confident that eventually I’ll also see other things everywhere. Perhaps pasta or pizza.

In 1999, M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed a small psychological horror movie that became a huge sensation. It was called The Sixth Sense, and it told the story of a troubled little boy named Cole Sear who is able to see and thus talk to and with the dead. In order to help him, a child psychologist spends time traveling with the boy and becomes very dedicated to helping him. The doctor’s name is Malcolm Crowe and he is haunted by his inability to help another boy with a similar issue years earlier. He is obsessed with Cole even though at first he thinks the boy is delusional. Eventually, he comes to realize that Cole may be telling the truth. He counsels Cole to help the ghosts to finish whatever unfinished business they have left behind.

The most memorable line, delivered chillingly by Haley Joel Osment as Cole: “I see dead people.”

The five senses that everyone knows are sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. The sixth sense is a little more difficult to categorize. It refers to our ability to perceive another dimension. Some call it extrasensory perception, or ESP, clairvoyance, premonition, even intuition. Others believe it has to do with the unseen world of ghosts, heaven and hell. It is about our ability to understand the subtle cause and effect relationship behind many events. A simple cause and effect would be I drink too much wine (cause) therefore I wake up with a headache (effect).

The twist in the film is, of course, legendary. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie, 1) where have you been? and 2) I’m about to reveal the big reveal). Cole Sear can see dead people, which is why he can see Dr. Crowe, who happens to be dead, having been shot at the beginning of the film.

The twist in my life is much less legendary. (No spoiler alert here so keep reading if you’re so inclined) I see grapes everywhere because my life has been all about grapes and wine for the past 10 days.

Still, is my ESP-sixth sense-clairvoyance trying to tell me something?

It’s after six. Maybe what my sixth sense is telling me is that the reason I can see grape clusters everywhere is because I need a glass of wine. If so, I can live with that.

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Happiness for stress

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 21, 2012 8:57 PM

Everybody is so stressed these days, suffering from the dreaded physical, mental and emotional pressure of day-to-day living. We’re not sleeping well, we’re eating badly, we’re snapping at each other.

My friend, Bobbi, a licensed marriage family therapist, said the other day that all of her clients are fairly vibrating with the stress of uncertainty. It is permeating every aspect of every day. People seem angrier than usual, they’re uncertain about what they did yesterday, what will happen today and are downright terrified of tomorrow. Good news is almost automatically juxtaposed with bad. Good feelings are countered with bitter. Genuine reflection is rebuffed in favor of retrospection. Let’s look back, not forward. No! Let’s move forward, not in reverse.

It is driving everyone I know, including me, nuts.

I believe we all have a strong desire to be optimistic about who we are and where we’re going, but all of the fog can shroud, clog our intentions. We want and yet we get buried in the multitudes of fear that surround us. We turn on our computers and the headlines scream: many have died, more are sick, the sky is falling and chicken little has been proven right. We turn on the television and are treated to much the same in the guise of talking heads sharing, sometimes with a bit too much glee, the horrid news of the day. Other talking heads simply shout at one another. You suck, no you suck, well you suck more, no you suck the most.

The newspapers only report good things on the entertainment pages and even those aren’t uniformly joyful. Sometimes they report about a beloved entertainment figure that has passed away. Sometimes they provide a story about how a particular part of the industry in a particular city is losing money and thus people are out of work. Generally a downer. Sometimes there are stories about Lindsay Lohan or the Kardashians, enough to bring an honest, hard-working, non-reality-show-watching woman to her knees.

Talking to friends and family isn’t always better. Some are suffering through tough economic times. Jobs aren’t materializing; promised work never arrives. Most have some sort of financial strain if not bordering on financial ruin. There are illnesses and maladies and fears of illnesses and maladies. There is loss and grief.

As if on cue, here come the holidays. I saw the first Christmas commercial about a week ago, for Target. I nearly threw my wine glass at the TV but didn’t want to waste the grape.

Even closer is the looming and glooming presidential election. Nearly everyone save some mysterious three percent whose existence I’m beginning to question has a stake in this fight. Most of the people I hang with are blue; some are red. Each side is equally passionate, equally nasty, and consumed with dread that the other guy might somehow, against all odds, win. The world as we know it will come to an end. Dogs and cats will begin living together. I will begin to drink white wine. OMG.

Stress vibrates. It keeps us up at night, keeps the heart racing and the brain waves waving. Blood flows a little too quickly and pounds at the temples. Joints ache. Extreme ideas surface and the imagination works overtime creating all manner of hysterical scenarios.

But what if the imagination worked instead to create something positive? Imagine, instead, that you get a new job, that the election will be OK. Imagine, instead, the twinkling lights of the holidays, the music, the crisp air and snuggly fires. The opportunity to be with the people you love, engaging in activities you enjoy, even if those activities involve not being with the people you love.

Imagine there’s no war, no killing, no anger.

Imagine channeling stress so that it becomes happiness. Turning hopeless to hopeful, pointless to the point. Seeing the potential of turning bad into good, of looking to the morning sky and realizing that with each new day comes a new opportunity. Imagine the joy of digging deep into your happiness reserves in order to find a way to make anger a kinder, gentler contentedness.

How do we do it? Some people exercise, some meditate, some surrender the gloom, some open a nice bottle of wine. What brings you the most comfort? Wherever you hide your happiness, you can instead hide your stress. Swap them out, for an hour, a day, a week, a year, a lifetime.

Celebrate the rainbow you find. It might just change your life. 

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