Butterflies on Friday

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 6, 2011 12:01 AM

I don’t see them often enough but today, around mid-day, they seemed to be populating the air with color. Even in the yellow glare of the sun, the yellow, orange and red butterflies were glorious, fiery and beautiful, chasing each other effortlessly. They flew just above our heads and just below the trees, like self-propelled flowers.

There must have been at least twenty of them, all individuals and yet all together, a convention of wings that made no sound but filled the air with grace. Nathaniel Hawthorne once said that “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight on you.” What a lovely metaphor, and one that works for happiness as well as for life in general. I spend my days chasing work, chasing and often missing deadlines, pursuing my career and many days I am moderately successful. I find, though, that if I simply stop the mad dash toward a possibility that is often just beyond my reach, the possibility comes closer. I can nearly touch it.

Watching the butterflies today, I found myself awash in peace. I don’t know that there are too many creatures on earth that can elicit such a feeling. An immediate calm arrives with each flutter of their wings.

One stopped to rest on a flower and I stopped, too, just for a minute. It sat very still, its wings barely twitching in the breeze. I wondered what it was thinking, if it thinks. I wondered what it was feeling, if it feels. I wondered if it was enjoying the fact that it was Friday and the temperature was a near perfect 81º. I wondered but I didn’t ask. I thought that might be intruding. Not to mention the fact that it was, you know, a butterfly and even in Wonderland, butterflies don’t talk.

There are six different types of butterflies in the United States. The Hesperiidae, also known as skippers, are small and brown, almost moth-like. There are 3500 different kinds in the world. Lycaenidae have gossamer-wings. There are 4740 types worldwide. Nymphalidae are the largest types and commonly known as brush-footed. They include the famed Monarch identified by their orange wings, checkerspots, crescents and more. 6000 different types live in various places around the globe. The Papilionidae family, of which there are 600, have tails on their wings. Pieridae butterflies are white, yellow and orange, and they’re extremely popular. Last come the Riodinidae. 1250 world-wide and they only live in very warm climates. Not sure we qualify. We’re warm just not very warm.

I have no idea what family my butterfly was in. It didn’t seem important. What mattered was that this creature was sharing the day with us, alighting near us, telling us to slow down and enjoy the day.

We took a long lunch and did just that.

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun; And find your shoulder to light on; To bring you luck, happiness and riches; Today, tomorrow and beyond. From an Irish blessing.

Happy Friday, happy weekend, to all.

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What crops up in certain circles

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 3, 2011 10:04 PM

I had some strange things happen today regarding family, and I was ranting a bit because I believe that ranting is something that everyone should do every once in a while if for no other reason than to get it out of your head and into the ether where it can be more easily managed. Bobbi asked me, in the midst of my angst overload meltdown, what I would be blogging about today since I didn’t seem to be very celebratory. She asked with love, affection and concern. I retorted: crop circles.

So without further ado, allow me to commence with a celebration of the patterned flattening of wheat, barley, rye, corn or rapeseed. These incredible occurrences have been happening for perhaps as long as hundreds of years, but mostly they’ve been capturing the attention the world – and not always in a healthy way – since the 1970s. According to the venerable Wikipedia, some 26 countries have reported cases of approximately ten thousand crop circles since the disco days with 90 percent of those in Southern England, appearing near such ancient monuments as Stonehenge and Avebury, a Neolithic henge monument, the largest stone circle in Europe. Circular coincidence?

Supposedly the crop circle phenomenon was started in 1978 by Doug Bower and Dave Chorley. To prove their point, they even demonstrated their prowess in the tall grass by making a circle in an hour. Until their revelation, made in 1991, all sorts of theories grabbed onto the minds of the common and uncommon man. Some suggested that the circles were the result of extraordinary meteorological phenomena based largely on a hypothesis posed by amateur scientist John Rand Capron in the 1880 publication of Nature. In it he stated that he had “found a field of standing wheat considerably knocked about” and “as viewed from a distance, circular spots… suggestive of some cyclonic wind action.”

That’s some wind.

There is also the paranormal belief that the circles were messages from extraterrestrial beings. ET evidently phoning home. This theory was largely proven false in the hugely disappointing M. Night Shyamalan film “Signs.” Some new agers also related the circles to Gaia, or Mother Earth, stating quite factually that the circles came from global warming and human pollution. Even animals were suspect. In 2009, the attorney general of Tasmania stated that Australian wallabies had been found creating crop circles in fields of opium poppies. No confirmation of whether they were just stopping to smell the flowers.

Historically, the Mowing-Devil made the Hartford-shire news in 1678 when Satan himself evidently mowed down someone’s crops following a dispute over harvesting. No evidence of anyone sporting horns and a tail, other than the family bull, was ever found.

The Mowing-Devil

Crop circles have been the subject of documentaries (Discovery’s Crop Circles: Mysteries of the Fields) and competitions in Berkshire, England. And artists like Rod Dickinson and John Lundberg have been creating crop circle art in the UK and around the world since the early 1990s.

I think crop circles are metaphors for the circle of life, the beauty of the earth and a celebration of the imagination. They are the personification of artists taking the world into their hands, literally, and creating visual wonders for all to see. And that’s worth a good rant any day.

A crop circle from Rod Dickinson’s Circlemakers. Can you see the face?

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In praise of the olive

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 29, 2011 6:50 PM

It begins life as a seed that grows into a tiny green fruit with another seed in the middle. They don’t come hollow or stuffed with pimento, nor are they pickled, sliced or diced, not at first. They’re olea europaea, olives, whose trees are native to the Mediterranean, first appearing more than 7000 years ago and becoming a tremendous source of wealth. Legend states that when the Persians set fire to Athens, the original olive tree was burnt down, but on the very day it burned, it grew again to twice its height. Perhaps because the tree had been a gift from the gods.

There is definitely mythology in these little green footballs. Olives are mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible, in both the Old and the New Testament. They’re mentioned seven times in the Quran, praised as a precious fruit. In The Odyssey, Odysseus crawls beneath two shoots of olives growing from a single stock while in the Iliad, the olive tree is used as metaphor. It appears in the mountains by a spring, notable because olives rarely thrive too far away from the sea and definitely not up a mountain slope. This gave the Greeks power, and proved that the gods were watching out for them. The Roman poet Horace described his diet as filled with olives, endives and smooth mallows. Lord Monboddo, an 18th century Scottish judge and philosopher, commented that olives were one of the preferred foods of the gods because of their perfection. After the 16th century, the olive traveled to and began to grow in Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina, and in the 18th century, in California. I thank the Lord, as in Monboddo.

We’re big on olives in this house, especially on Friday nights, affectionately known as Fritini. We prefer the manzanilla variety, a Spanish green cured lightly with lye then packed in salt and lactic acid brine, stuffed with pimento. When run through with a martini pick, and soaked in vodka for the appropriate amount of time, they’re quite tasty.

Of course, there is also the French variety known as picholine, also salt-brine cured with a subtle lightly salty flavor and packed with citric acid. And I’m a personal fan of the kalamata, especially on a Greek salad. The niçoise is great on pizza. There are also the Italian Liguria, ponentine, gaeta, lugano, the sevillano from California, and about 12 other types growing on about 800 million trees throughout the world.

But let’s return for a moment to the lovely green manzanilla and a number of its friends marinating in an ice cold Grey Goose martini, its pimentos smiling up from the liquid, just begging to be nibbled, chewed and swallowed.

On this last Friday in July, I give thanks to the Greeks and especially the Goddess Athena who brought olives to the tiny people below. This gift, useful for light, heat, food, medicine and perfume was chosen by Zeus as the world’s most useful invention, an invention that has also come to symbolize peace, wisdom, glory, fertility, power and purity. Athena’s original olive tree was said to be planted on the rocky hill of what is today the high city, the Acropolis.

The original olive tree on the Acropolis, Athens, Greece

In praise of Athena, and her incredibly inventive fruit, I raise a glass. Cheers!

Vintage, not old

by Lorin Michel Monday, July 25, 2011 9:54 PM

We rarely buy anything new, other than wine but since we think of wine as food, that doesn’t really count. Neither does a pair of jeans or socks and underwear; shoes are bought new, as are computers, though I did buy my iPad used. I figured it was something to play with, something to use only occasionally, so used was better. And less money for something I really didn’t need but just wanted.

We’ve spent some time on the need vs. want with Justin. He’s in college and doesn’t have unlimited funds, even from the parental ATM. He may want a blender but does he need it? He may want a trip to Italy, but does he need it? He needs a roof over his head, he needs food. There’s a fine line.

Both Kevin and I subscribe to the idea of working to build character rather than expecting it to build itself. We believe that character comes from learning, from living life and truly experiencing it, from working for what we have so that we enjoy it more. It’s something we’ve tried to instill in Justin as well. It’s something I learned as a teenager. I wanted a horse; I was sure of it. My parents said they thought that was just a great idea but that I should probably spend some time in a stable, actually being around horses, to learn about them before deciding which horse I should get. I didn’t have a problem with that and promptly got a job mucking stalls. I hated it. And then a horse I had led from his stall in order to clean it decided he didn’t want to go back in. He bucked and reared and came down on my foot. But I learned.

I learned that I didn’t really want a horse because I didn’t want to have to take care of one. I also didn’t need a horse.

When Justin was in high school, he got an allowance and when he turned 16, we told him we thought it would be a good idea if he got a part time job so he could learn how to better budget his time and make his own money to buy his own stuff, stuff that he wanted (we’ve always taken care of the needs). We thought it would teach him how life actually works. You don’t just get what you want, you have to work for it. He did not want to get a job, but he did, learning the fine art of filling out an application and dressing appropriately for an interview. He’s pretty much held a job ever since.

When he was 16 and learning to drive, we got him a car. Neither of our cars was appropriate for him to learn on – one too big, one too fast – so we found a 1994 Honda Civic LX. It had four doors, four cylinders and two airbags. It was perfect. Many of his friends got brand new cars when they were old enough to drive, as if the mere act of turning 16 warranted them having the newest car in the family. We didn’t think that taught anything so we went with an older car. Vintage.

When we bought our house, we bought one pre-owned. The Porsche we bought on ebay, figuring we could restore as necessary. The Range Rover we bought pre-owned as well, albeit from an owner who rarely drove it as it was a third vehicle; he kept it garaged. It looked and acted new; but it wasn’t. Now it’s also vintage.

Across the street, our neighbor’s daughter recently graduated from high school. They sent her to Europe for three weeks and then, just yesterday, she pulled up in front of the house in a brand new Fiat. We stood in the kitchen window, watching her and wondering if maybe we had done something wrong. Maybe we should have bought Justin a brand new car, maybe we should have brand new cars, too. But we didn’t and we don’t. We’ve chosen vintage, but not old. Even our puppy is vintage.

It’s how we like it. We think it gives us character, all of us, even Justin. He never complained, he loves his Honda, except that the A/C isn’t working very well (we’ll get that fixed; he does live in the desert), and we hope that when he’s older, he’ll better understand that new isn’t always better, sometimes it’s just new.

Maybe our philosophy is outdated, perhaps our way of thinking is old, but we like to think of it as vintage. Vintage, after all, has character. Just look at Maguire.

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Auntie Warren holded the ladder for Uncle Kebin

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 24, 2011 8:37 PM

Many years ago, Kevin and I were doing some painting in the great room. He was up on the extension ladder, the top feet resting against the beam traversing the ceiling that goes all the way to the top of the second story. We had done some drywall sanding as well so there was a fine layer of dust on the marble floor of the entry way, where the bottom feet of the ladder rested.

I’m not a big fan of ladders though I understand their necessity, and evidently so does just about everyone in world, now and for centuries past. In fact, the first known recording of humans using ladders can be seen in a Mesolithic rock painting in a cave in Valencia, Spain. The painting is at least 10,000 years old and shows non-descript humans carrying baskets or bags up a ladder that seems to be made of grass as they climb to reach a bee’s nest. Obviously they were in search of honey. More modern ladders were first built by Hebrews and Egyptians during the rule of the great Pharaohs. Many were used to build the pyramids. Those were fixed ladders, largely constructed of bamboo or other reeds.

There are 14 different types of ladders currently in existence. While most were originally made of wood, aluminum was introduced in the 20th century because of its lighter weight.

There are bridge ladders, which are used horizontally, and cat or chicken ladders used on steep roofs to keep roof dwellers from sliding off into oblivion. There’s also a roof ladder that hooks over the ridge of a pitched roof. A folding ladder has hinges; a hook or pompier ladder has a hook to grab things like windowsills, explaining why they’re so popular with firefighters, as are turntable ladders that are fitted to the rotating platform on top of fire trucks. An orchard ladder has three legs so it can be placed between branches to make things like apple picking easier, and safer. Step ladders, patented in 1862, are short; builder’s ladders have multiple sections so they can be short or long. A telescoping ladder has three parts that can form two step ladders while a vertically rising ladder is designed to climb impossibly high, reaching nearly infinite points.

And then there is the extension ladder like ours. It has a pulley system so Kevin can raise or lower it by himself, lock it into place and then climb to wherever he needs to climb.

Yesterday, he was using it against the palm trees in the yard, extending it high up toward the fronds so he could cut down the dead ones and clean up the trees in general. There are three such trees. They reach to the sky, and there he was balancing against a ladder that was leaning against a long tree that has very slick bark. I was on the ground, trying to keep the ladder steady as it slid from side to side as he wielded some kind of saw on a pole. Fronds crashed around me. Rigid spears sliced through the air. But the mission was accomplished without incident.

The same cannot be said for that episode many years ago when the extension ladder had a seemingly solid place to rest against the beam. The beam, it seems, was not the problem. The fine layer of drywall dust was. Under Kevin’s weight, the feet slid as if on ice and the ladder fell, bringing my husband crashing to the floor, through furniture and paint cans. We spent the day in the emergency room before learning he had been lucky, suffering only torn ligaments in his ankle and a couple of bruises.

I told my sister about our little episode and she called back several hours later with this question, dripping with wisdom, from my then four year old niece: “Why didn’t auntie Warren holded the ladder for uncle Kebin?”

I celebrate that wisdom every time my husband insists on climbing to the sky.

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The importance of being gray

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 24, 2011 9:28 PM

I have very dark hair. I have since I was a little girl, though I didn’t actually have hair until I was just over the age of one. I had a simple little curl tuft on top of my head. I looked like a bird. But once it came in, it came in dark and wavy. I got bored in my 30s and tried to go on the red side. It didn’t work for me. Then I went blonde, not bleached blonde, but very light, light brown with bleached highlights that made me look blonde. I liked it very much, especially in the summertime, but the upkeep was difficult because my roots were so dark. If I let it go too long between colorings, I ran the risk of looking like a reverse skunk.

I had gone from Tweety to Pepé Le Pew.

I eventually got bored with being blonde and went back to my natural color, and decided it was a much better shade on me. There’s a reason we have the hair color we do.

Lately, I’ve noticed some gray popping up here and there, mostly visible along my natural part line when my hair is wet, not so much when it’s dry because of that wavy/curly thing. But my right temple is where I notice it the most. It’s very odd and I have a theory that involves the whole right brain/left brain phenomenon. Because I tend to be more creative than not, I’m considered to function primarily from my right brain. And since that side gets so much more work, and stress, the hair is grayer.

Gray hair happens to just about everyone, which is why most women are so thankful for hair color. My college roommate had very dark hair, darker than mine, bordering on black. She had a lot of gray even when we were in school. About once a month, we’d get ourselves a bottle of wine and some nice bright light, and as we drank, I’d find the grays and pull them out. It wasn’t very efficient, but it did temporarily get rid of those nasty little white hairs that were twisting through her beautiful dark tresses.

She’s since given up entirely and is completely gray. I say, more power to her. But give me my hair color any day.

Gray hair is a natural occurrence, especially since all hair starts out as white. It gets its natural color from melanin, the production of which begins at birth. There is either dark or light, and they blend together to form a wide range of natural shades. As hair grows, melanin-based pigment cells called melanocytes inject color into each individual hair. As we age, melanin production is reduced, and hair turns gray and eventually back to white.

Having a teenager may also be to blame, but that’s just a theory as well.

For some reason, gray hair symbolizes old, but what is old? Is it really a function of hair color? Is it the lines around the eyes? The aches and pains that didn’t used to be there? A particular state of mind? Probably all.

Last year, when Sandra Bullock won the academy award for The Blind Side, the running meme was how incredible it was that she had won at 45. Because evidently 45 is very old. This year, when Colin Firth won for best actor for The King’s Speech, at 50, no one said anything about his age.

Interestingly both of them have lovely dark hair, with hardly a hint of gray.

Personally, my gray hair doesn’t bother me. I’m a bit intrigued by the graying temple. I still cover it all once every 5 or 6 weeks. Not sure why, other than the fact that I can. And I suppose because I don’t want to look older than I am, or certainly older than I feel.

I celebrate my gray hair. I’ve earned it; it’s important to have it. It symbolizes a basic human truth and wonder. But I’m a brunette, since I was one, and I also plan to celebrate that for quite some time to come.

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Wisdom of the aging

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 7, 2011 11:20 PM

Had a very nice interaction today with an older gentleman. We were out for our lunch-time walk, and on our way up the third of four hills, we encountered this man as he too ascended the hill, with a little help from a cane. He was slightly hunched forward, spry in a pair of baggy Levis, a red hoodie, white sneakers, a baseball cap, and aviator sunglasses that were almost black. He commented on the weather as we passed by and we stopped for moment to chat. He was here from New Jersey and was enjoying the weather immensely. It was about 65º today with a cool wind blowing. He’d left New Jersey on February 6 when it was 15º; he wasn’t missing it.

For the past few years, he and his wife have been snowbirding in Oak Park. They started with a month, then two. Next year, he’s thinking they may be here for three months. He loves this little town, loves the restaurants and the shopping. Loves to walk. They stay with his old college roommate.

I’m guessing that he’s in his early 80s. He was delightful, so enjoying the day and today’s life. And I couldn’t help but think that this man was wisdom-walking. The life he must have led. Had probably seen a war or two, married his high school sweetheart, had three kids (two girls and a boy in the middle) and worked his whole life at the same company. He gets a pension, and social security. He’s not hurting for money, even after putting his three kids through college and helping each one of them buy their first home.

He and his wife sold their house years ago and live in a very stylish townhome now. It’s much easier, much more ideal for their lifestyle. In the summer, they golf and visit their grandchildren. In the winter, they spend time in Southern California.

He was charming and lovely, a man of integrity who loved life, was out celebrating the day and vowing to celebrate even longer next year.

And it got me thinking. We think of wisdom as something we gain with age; that it’s something profound. I wonder, though, if wisdom is sometimes simply realizing that another place is better in the winter.

Wisdom is appreciating a beautiful March afternoon.

Wisdom is knowing that three months under a California winter sun, even when it’s just 65º is infinitely better than being under a gray New Jersey sky, when the temperature is rarely above 15º.

Wisdom is taking a walk on a Monday afternoon and talking to the whipper-snappers who are cruising by, and getting them to stop and chat. 

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