A magus moon

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 19, 2011 9:13 PM

The Magus is a novel by the British writer John Fowles. It’s about an Oxford graduate and aspiring poet who gets pulled into the web of a mysterious recluse who may or may not have collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Psychological games ensue. It’s not necessarily cheery but it is fascinating, and beautifully written. A friend of mine gave it to me on my 30th birthday and I have never been able to get it out of my head.

The magus of the book’s title refers to a magician and a sorcerer, a manipulator of reality. But a magus is also an astrologer, someone who views the heavens and decides our collective fate. It’s interesting then that tonight we welcome what the magus have dubbed the super moon, so named by Richard Nolle, a magus with a flair for the dramatic. This super moon, which also happens to be a full moon, will orbit the earth much closer than usual, a mere 221,560 some-odd miles away. A lunar perigee like this, when the moon is at its closest as well as at its brightest, will also display itself bigger and brighter than normal. 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter to be exact, and yet that big brightness will be almost indecipherable to the frail human eye.

This phenomenon happens once every 18 to 20 years, though tonight’s moon hasn’t appeared quite this large since March of 1993.

It’s quite a sight when the moon rises from the horizon on a clear night. That big glowing orb in the sky never ceases to amaze and confound. There have been countless books written about it and a movie that captured its magic perfectly, Moonstruck.

On this night, our moon will be absolutely enormous as it rises in the East and sets in the West.

La bella luna. The beautiful moon. Bigger, brighter, more magical than ever.

So look up into the sky and celebrate the light it casts down upon we mortals. And celebrate the magic of being moonstruck.

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Cause to celebrate

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 18, 2011 6:53 PM

It's the end of the week, always cause for celebration. Tomorrow morning I get to sleep in a bit more than I do during the week. Another cause for joy. It's going to rain, and there's almost nothing I like more than to lay in bed on a morning when I don't have to get up, listening to the rain pounding the roof, the ground, racing through the gutters. I love the noise it makes as it pushes through the trees, gulpy and insistent, petulent in its rightness to be wet, to storm.

I'm celebrating friends and the ease we have with one another. Conversation never lags, and laughter bounces through the house and lodges up in the corners of the rafters, waiting to be called upon at another time. Like an echo, it's there to keep us company even after the friends have departed.

I'm celebrating my husband because he puts up with me and my moods.

I'm celebrating a good week of work and the possibility of another looming. Even the meetings are welcomed because there is interaction, and camaraderie, the sharing of ideas and thoughts. I relish that.

I'm celebrating my son who this week received an offer for a summer stock internship in New York, with New York Stage and Film. I'm not celebrating how much it's going to cost us but I'm thrilled for him and the experience he'll get. Experience he can use as he completes his next two years of college; experience that will propel him ever forward.

I'm celebrating my niece who is completing a play this week. She's 11, and so far away, but she's always in my heart and I'm so proud of her.

I'm celebrating my nephew because he's just so damn cute and because he's so determined in everything. It's easy to celebrate that as the doting aunt.

I'm celebrating the music pouring from the speakers in our great room, filling the house with piano and guitar, horns and drums.

I'm celebrating because I can, and that's cause enough. Life is cause enough.

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Green is good

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 17, 2011 10:52 PM

I’ve always liked the color green. It makes me feel calm. Maybe that’s because in some cultures it can symbolize hope and growth; it can also mean death, sickness and envy, as in green with. But for me, it means balance and harmony and health. It symbolizes change and transformation, a metamorphosis, something new. It’s opportunity and rebirth. No wonder Friday is also known as the day of green.

Green is a color, or many, a season or seasons, many animals, a number of veggies, a mood and money. In recent years it has come to symbolize technology as well. Green as a word is related to the old English verb growan, to grow. People can be green around the gills, or want some greenbacks. Cash.

Wikipedia has a whopping 62 pages devoted to 62 different colors of green. A website called diaspora.ie lists 568 shades of “green so far,” but I haven’t been able to decipher whether that may actually refer to 568 members, people or affiliates.

I suspect there are actually countless shades since the color green emits light wavelengths between 520 and 570 nanometers, and there is an infinite amount of floating point numbers between. Floating points are digital representations of a number that doesn’t actually exist but that generates a plethora of random other numbers. I don’t really understand it; it’s a scientific calculation. Science was never really my strong suit.

In the current Crayola crayons lineup there are twenty shades of green. My favorite is Shamrock, or maybe Inch Worm.

There are also a number of green animals. Many take on a green hue to camouflage themselves in their natural green environment. Lizards, many reptiles like the ball python – shudder - and amphibians, fish, insects (praying mantis) and even birds. Frogs.

Kermit!

Green also refers to technologies that harness natural energy sources. Solar and wind, electric cars, compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

Depending on where you live you have a season or two that celebrates green, rebirth and regrowth. In Southern California, it’s late winter into spring. Summer is all brown, but in the winter when the rains come, the hillsides are phosphorescent, alive and vibrant. Truly something extraordinary. It’s that way now, as the hills roll forwards and back and reach for the sky in glorious shades of green. In other parts of the country and world, green starts with the rebirth of trees and the budding of flowers in spring, and continues into summer, thick and lush and exotic.

Imagine the rainforest, green all the time.

Green vegetables are great sources of fiber, the antioxidant vitamins A, C and K, and minerals, and they’re low in calories. Broccoli, spinach, artichokes, asparagus, and celery are some of the top greenies. I like all five though celery is a little stringy for me. It gets caught in my teeth.

Greens can be a golf course or a salad. Green can be naïve or environmentally correct. It is freedom and new ideas.

Green is a ferocious personality, a color that means life and love, a symbol of health and growth, of ecology, social justice and non-violence.

On this day, it simply symbolizes solidarity with the Emerald Isle.

So in celebration of green…

Tucker Hirsch, therapy dog.

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Corned beef and cabbage

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 16, 2011 10:40 PM

My dad was Scotch-Irish. He stood 6’ 2”, weighed two hundred twenty pounds, had dark hair that, when it got too long, developed a slight curl over his ears and at his collar. When he was older, the color turned gray but still curled. His eyes were the lightest of blue with just a hint of green and twinkled when he was having a good time, when he laughed. He didn’t laugh often enough.

He was a big man, generous to a fault, gentle and yet possessed a fierce temper. He loved sports and Italian food, his three children and my mother, even after they divorced. And he loved corned beef and cabbage. Personally, I find corned beef salty and completely the wrong color. It borders on pinkish orangey gray, with a green tint. 

I learned today as I listened to NPR, that to corn beef, known as salt beef in the United Kingdom, you have to brine it. There is a mixture of spices that gives it its signature flavor. This spice mixture is also a simple preservative that keeps it that pinkish color even after it’s cooked. Known as potassium nitrate, it is commonly known as saltpeter. Interestingly, saltpeter is the critical oxidizing component of gunpowder, and fertilizer, along with being a food preservative. When dissolved in warm water, and mixed with sugar and more salt, saltpeter becomes the perfect brine, or water saturated with salt. Pour it over a brisket, seal it all up in a bag, and store in the refrigerator for 10 to 14 days. Then cook it with cabbage and potatoes until everything is soft. Serve.

When we were growing up, my mother made corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. The only one in the family who really liked it was my dad. The rest of us pushed our meals around our plates and nibbled at the potatoes. The potatoes were good. But my dad… the twinkle was definitely in his eye as he savored his first serving and then his second.

I wish I knew what it was that he loved so much about this meal; I wish I could ask him. He died almost 9 years ago and I miss his twinkling eyes, his friendly chuckle followed by a snort. His dad-ness. I even miss the smell of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.

But not enough to cook it. Instead, I’ll raise a pint of Smithwick’s to my dad, Terry, and to his love of this most Irish of meals. I’ll wear something green to celebrate my partial Irish heritage. Perhaps I’ll put on some Celtic music. And I’ll miss my dad, maybe even a little bit more than I do every other day.

Mora na maidine dhuit, Da. Top of the morning to you, Dad.

Mom and Dad, in more twinkling days.

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Celebrate teachers

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 15, 2011 10:51 PM

Posted without comment and with great appreciation for all the great teachers out there now, in the past and still to come.

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I stand on my desk for you.

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Horatio Magellan Crunch, Jr.

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 14, 2011 10:18 PM

He was born in 1963 though he had already attained the rank of captain and sported a full handle-bar-like moustache of white. The son of a great seaman, Admiral Horatio Magellan Crunch, Sr., he was, and remains, dapper in his Navy blues. His ship is the S.S. Guppy, a stout 3-master that still rides high in the water. First mate Seadog is strong and silent; the crew is eclectic.

Many adventures have followed Crunch and his crew as they sailed the treacherous waters of the Milk Sea discovering islands inhabited by beasts and more including Smedley, who often impersonated a navy man, and Harry S. Hippo, also in the Navy. Along the way, Crunch and his crew, chanced upon a great white whale, similar to Ahab in Moby Dick, though this whale was much less fierce and much more winsome.

Throughout his voyages, the Captain maintained a strong spirit and a constant vigil, always seeking truth and justice. In 1997, H.M. Crunch, Jr. was promoted to the rank of Admiral. When the Guppy sailed again, the crew discovered an insidious threat to the world’s supply of the rare mineral crunchium on the secret land of Volcania. The land was saved when the admiral and his crew foiled the crunchium thieves.

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Crunch’s “mother” was a woman named Pamela Low, a flavorist by trade who specialized in brown sugar and butter recipes served over rice. It is she who gave “birth” to the captain, the only naval seaman that I love, and have always loved. I was a fan when I was a child and remember fondly nights spent at my best friend Pam’s house when each morning the box sat on the table, the Quaker Oats Company logo prominently displayed. I didn’t care; I just loved the sugar coated corn-like squares that floated effortlessly in the Milk Sea and managed to hold their own without waging war with the Soggies, two very rough customers dedicated to making my cereal, well, soggy.

H.M. Crunch, Jr. Son of Senior and creation of Ms. Low. Cap’n my Cap’n. I remember our mornings fondly and miss you. You were so very good. You still sit at the head of my table.

 

Art by Brian Stuckey.

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In celebration of slippers

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 13, 2011 10:31 PM

I’m a big fan of slippers. I don’t know when it happened, though I suspect it started when I was in 8th grade and my mother brought home a pair of tan suede leather moccasins, with a suede leather tie and fringe. They had a faux fur foam insole and I lived in them. I think she bought them at Barker’s, Hyde Park, New York’s version of Target many years before there was a Target.

Slippers are worn by nearly every culture in the world, with both men and women slipping their feet into something more comfortable on a regular basis. They originate from sandals dating back to ancient Egypt, as so many things do. The earliest recorded discussion of slippers appears in a description by a Southern Song dynasty soldier describing two types of not-quite shoes he witnessed in what is now Vietnam. These slippers, like my earliest moccasins, had a leather bottom so that the wearers could walk outside comfortably. One type had a small post with a mushroom shape atop; the post was worn between the toes, similar to today’s flip-flops (full disclosure: also a fan); another style had a cross-shaped leather cover across the foot, connecting to the leather sole.

People in Japan have long revered slippers. These are a people whose customs dictate that they take their shoes off when entering homes, including their own. When Westerners first descended on the island country during the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), the Japanese invented a special type of slipper that the ‘round eyes’ could pull over their boots. If you visit Japan today, you’ll find slippers in every hotel or inn you check into.

The rest of the western world slips into slippers most mornings, sometimes during the night, and for those of us who work out of the home, all day.

The earliest record of the English word for slipper occurred in 1478 and was derived from the verb ‘to slip,’ describing something one slips their foot into.

The United Kingdom’s traditional slipper is the Albert, from the Victoria era and Prince Albert. Naturally it’s velvet with a quilted silk lining and a leather sole.

The first ballet slipper was created by Marie Ann Cupis de Camargo of the Royal Ballet in the 1700s. Salvatore Capezio advanced the ballet slipper in 1887 in New York City, and Jacob Bloch of Russia made slippers of leather in 1932.

Cinderella, who, believe it or not, may have originated in classical antiquity, wore sandals in the earliest incarnation of her story. She was called Rhosopis then. It wasn’t until 1697 that the glass slipper was first introduced by the French author Charles Perrault.

Dorothy, from the L. Frank Baum story The Wizard of Oz and famously played by Judy Garland, wore ruby slippers. But they had heels. Talk about something from the Wicked Witch.

Today’s slippers include fleece-lined, leather loafers, corduroy slip-ons, and suede moccasins.  

My slippers currently include a pair of the fleece-lined variety, a faux-suede slip-on, and yep – those old moccasins from 8th grade. I still have them. I still love them. I still celebrate them.

Though the foam insole needs replaced.

 

UPDATE: My good friend Roy sends along these beautiful slippers, which he lovingly calls "footini."

Slippers and an ice-cold, grey goose martini, slightly dirty, extra olives. That's a celebration unto itself.

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A beautiful man

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 10, 2011 11:46 PM

The Thomas Crown Affair, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo was on AMC tonight. I absolutely love that movie. It's sexy, and smart, and it has Pierce Brosnan. 

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It's always a good day when I can look at Pierce Brosnan. The husband-unit doesn't mind looking at Rene Russo either.

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Ah. Coffee.

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 9, 2011 11:49 PM

I read recently that Starbucks is now 40 years old and I was surprised. I had no idea that the self-appointed coffee-connoisseur had been around nearly as long as I had. As I sat in one today, in Glendale, sipping a non-fat latte, listening to their music selection of the day, a woman who sounded a little like Lucinda Williams, and catching up on a little work, I thought about how important coffee has become to our society.

It is an international ice-breaker, a meeting maker, a social norm. "Let’s grab coffee." "Meet me at Starbucks." "See you at 10." It is ever present in most gatherings; it is the way we end most dinners. It begins most days.

Coffee. Ah.

I know that every morning Kevin gets up before me, usually to take the dog out. He then makes coffee, bless his soul. We grind our own beans and steep them in water, steaming through a very narrow tube to fill a pot. I lay in bed, inhaling the rich dirt and dark fragrance as it wafts through the house and into the bedroom. I can hear it percolating. Do we still call it that? I usually call it cooking. After a while I call out and my fabulous husband appears in the doorway and asks: “You want I should bring you coffee?”

That’s better than Starbucks any day! And definitely every morning. I always nod enthusiastically. 

Ah. Caffé.

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Ringing the bell

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 8, 2011 11:30 PM

Alexander Graham Bell changed the world on June 2, 1875. It was that night that his partner, Thomas Watson, plucked a reed, part of an ongoing experiment that Bell was running to create a harmonic telegraph, mimicking the overtones necessary for creating speech over telegraph lines. Then, on March 10, 1876, the famous words were uttered over a liquid transmitter: “Mr. Watson ­– Come here – I want to see you.” Words that Watson heard clearly over those same lines.

The telephone was officially born that day, and it forever changed the way we could, and do, talk to one another. Hallelujah!

Since Bell and Watson, we’ve gone from boxes that hang on the wall with separate ear and voice horns, to rotary phones, to touch tone or push button. Portable phones made their debut in the 1980s, right around the time that car phones became popular. Then came cell phones, 1G, 2G, 3G and now 4G. Smart phones.

These phones allow us to talk as well as type so we can communicate in many ways, using just one device. We surf the 'net, we tweet. We are forever talking to one another in one form or another and I believe that's a good thing. It keeps the lines of communication open to all sorts of messages and all manner of information-sharing.

People often bemoan the lack of communication skills with today’s younger generation. Supposedly they don’t know how to talk on the phone; all they do is text; they’re on Facebook or Twitter all day long. All may be true, but what’s also true is that every one of those is a means of communication. The older generation may not like it but the fact is, they’re communicating. They’re “talking” to each other in a myriad of ways, setting up food dates and making plans, connecting, spreading important news instantaneously, even letting parents know what’s going on. They’re talking.

In the 1870s there was one official means of communication, the telegraph, and one beginning to gain popularity, the telephone.

Today, we don’t think about how we communicate; we simply pick up the phone. 

Cell. Text. Email. Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. The Internet. All accessible by phone, with caller ID.

We’re talking up a storm over all kinds of lines and wireless devices. Alexander Graham Bell could never have imagined that his tiny liquid transmitter would lead to this but thank god it did.

In 1877, the first long-distance telephone lines were laid and in 1915, the first coast-to-coast long-distance call was completed, with Bell in New York City calling Thomas Augustus Watson in San Francisco.

I talked to my mom tonight. She’s in New England and I’m in Southern California. I think she’s got a little Bell in her, and I’m out here celebrating Thomas Watson. We talked for an hour, and I celebrate that. It's Alexander Bell's greatest legacy, the ability for those far away to have contact with those we love virtually any time.

And I love that.

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