oh the carnage

by Lorin Michel Thursday, November 12, 2015 7:44 PM

We have had three dogs. Regular readers know all of them fairly well. Dogs make for easy blog posts because they are such characters. Each has an individual personality. Like people, no two are exactly alike. They all like to eat different things, they’re all afraid of different things. There are some similarities. They all like to go for walks, or at least all of ours have liked that. They like going in the car to varying degrees. They like toys. More to the point, they like to destroy toys.

When Maguire was a puppy, before we knew better, we often bought him rubber-plastic toys. He loved them. Within 30 minutes, he had loved them so much they were in little rubber-plastic pieces on the floor next to him, the squeaker carefully deposited on top of the pile. Then he’d sit there and smile at us, so proud of the carnage he’d inflicted. It was as if he was saying: “look what I did, mom. Isn’t it great? Thanks so much for that guy. Please, can I have another?”

Paging Oliver Twist.

As he got older, we gave him plush toys. These didn’t fare much better. He would grasp these guys between his two massive paws and pick at them with his teeth, trying to dislodge a thread. As soon as he had a thread he would pull on it and pull on it until it unraveled a seam. Stuffing! He would systematically pull the stuffing out one mouthful at a time, depositing it in piles on either side of him. The once plush toy was reduced to a mere shell of its former self. We used to re-stuff the toys and put them in the hospital. The hospital was the top of the refrigerator where re-stuffed toys waited to be sewn up. After two or three trips to the hospital, the toy would be properly buried in the trash can. 

Cooper did much the same, though since he was older when we got him he had a bit more self-control. He would still work his guys, chewing on them, pulling to find that elusive thread. And once found, the same process would begin. A hole would open, and stuffing would be pulled out and deposited. It often looked as if a small snowstorm had happened just around him. By then, we’d closed the hospital. If he destroyed a toy, it got thrown out. Sooner or later a new toy appeared. He had several toys at any given time, so he was never without and he rarely went from destroying one to immediately destroying another. 

Enter Riley Michel. 

Oh, the carnage. Like those who came before, he loves his guys. Like those who came before, he will work a guy until he finds that one loose and offending thread and then he will pull until it opens and he can systematically dig out the stuffing. If he finds a squeaker or a rattle along the way, all the better. It’s like bonus carnage. 

What carnage?

Lately he’s been on a true tear. Just this week we have had to “bury” – and by bury I mean toss in the trash – Joe, a camouflage dinosaur that my mother brought him; Beav, a very dapper beaver that Roy and Bobbi brought him; Bear, a supposedly tougher toy that I bought him from Ace Hardware; and Cow, several tennis balls with a thick rope going through and a stuffed head and tail.

We have tried to explain to him that if he destroys all of his guys in one week, he’s going to be a very lonely boy. And that if he thinks I’m going to go out and buy more toys, well … he’s absolutely right but probably not until this weekend. 

As I write this, there is another guy in the foyer. Santa Bone. Santa Bone was Cooper’s and we just recently discovered him in a box. Riley took to Santa right away, and vice versa. But the attraction has turned violent. There is carnage. Everywhere. Again. 

This is the legacy my boys share. Their love and the eventual destruction of their guys. But as Kevin pointed out with Riley, they’re his guys. I worry though that he may be pathological. He may be a serial guy destroyer. I wonder if there’s a program he can join. What’s a puppy mom to do? Except buy more toys and expect more carnage. Like Cooper and Maguire before him, it’s Riley’s way of living it out loud. 

Only 358 days until Christmas

by Lorin Michel Thursday, January 1, 2015 7:59 PM

It is the first day of a brand spanking new year, one that is all shiny and filled with possibility and light. As such, it is the perfect day to say “out with the old, in with the new.” Old ways of thinking and new ways of changing. Old downers and new uppers, if you will. It is also my annual de-Christmasing, something I actually look forward to.

I am, as regular readers know, a bit of a Christmas nut. I love the music, I love the movies, I love the decorations, the festivity and the cheer. I even love the shopping as long as I don’t have to leave the house. Each year, on Thanksgiving weekend, I begin the decorating process. I make my husband hang lights outside. I put up the tree and decorate. I put up any other inside decorations I want to put up, including my Byers Choice Carolers. I put Christmas music on the stereo. I am a happy little Christmas clam.

As the month of December roars along, I purchase and wrap presents. Some go under the tree; others get shipped. I enjoy the season, I welcome the cold. I even do Christmas cards.

Then Christmas day arrives and it’s wonderful. The day after Christmas we go wine tasting. And then the week sort of meanders toward New Year’s Eve. By the time that rolls around, I’m done with all the celebrating, if not the joy. Don’t get me wrong. I remain filled with fa-la-la-la-la and all that jazz throughout the year. I am, as Ebenezer Scrooge finally decided, filled with the Christmas spirit.

Sort of. Except when I’m pissed at traffic, or clients, or the world in general.

On New Year’s Day, therefore, I de-Christmas. It’s a tradition and a process. I start by bringing all of the decorations I need to put away into one central location, like the eat-at bar in the kitchen. I take the lights off the tree, as well as any ornaments (which I haven’t actually hung in years so that helps). I go to the storage area and retrieve the myriad of boxes that I need in order to put everything away. I box my big display Santa, a gift from my mom and sister years ago. He’s the size of a small child and stands in the corner. I box my Karen Didion wine Santa, a gift from my husband several years ago. I take the other smaller wine Santa off the table, and the one from the top of the tree (no angels in this wine-soaked house), and put them away. I take the wreath off the front door as well as any lights that have been strung outside.

One by one, things get boxed and put away. Sometimes, like this morning, I do all of this while listening, for the last time, to Christmas music. It’s like the last hurrah.

The season has come to end. We celebrated the beginning of the end last night when snow started to fall around 10:30. It was the perfect way for the Christmas season to finish. We had hot chocolate today and toast, just like I used to have when I was a kid and we had a snow day. As I looked around my de-Christmased house, which always seems oddly empty for the first few hours after everything is put away, I was struck by two things: There are only 358 days until Christmas, and 332 days until re-Christmasing.


Memories of Christmas

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 25, 2014 10:04 PM

I remember going to my grandmother’s when I was little, my dad’s mom. She lived in a very small house in a very small town. It was the house my dad had grown up in. My grandmother’s bedroom was off the kitchen; the attic had been converted to two small bedrooms. One was my dad’s; one his sister’s. When we’d visit, I have no recollection of where everyone slept. I think my dad slept on the couch. I think all of the children slept upstairs. Maybe my mother and grandmother shared the bed in the bedroom? If that’s the case, I can’t imagine my mother was very happy about it. She and my grandmother didn’t get along particularly well.

There was one bathroom, also off the kitchen in the back of the house. I remember coming downstairs to go to the bathroom one Christmas Eve. My dad was still watching TV. As soon as I appeared at the top of the stairs he jumped up to find out what I was doing, what I needed. He ushered me to the bathroom, trying to shield me from seeing what “Santa” had already delivered. But I saw anyway. A Baby Tenderlove, a doll I had asked for.

I remember my mom and sister coming out to California for Christmas and staying with Tim and I in our new house. He and I did not have a good marriage and they got to see it in all of its nastiness. I do remember that I got my first Byer’s Choice Caroler that year, a choir conductor in Dickensian garb. My mom and sister got me a Byer’s Choice lamp. My collection officially began that year even as my marriage was ending. I now have at least 50 if not more.

I remember my first Christmas with Kevin. His two sisters came to California to stay for a week. They flew from Chicago, through Utah, to pick up Justin. For some reason, I felt like a third wheel. It was stupid, and entirely me. No one else made me feel that way. Justin was 4. My sister got engaged that year and it made me very depressed because I was so far away.

I remember waiting one year until Christmas Eve to get a tree. That’s because Justin didn’t fly in until that day, and we wanted to do the tree with him. He was still little. Maybe 7 or 8. The tree lot had trees that were 3 feet tall or 13 feet tall; nothing in between. As we had vaulted ceilings in the Oak Park house, we opted for the 13 footer. We got it home, somehow, and into the tree stand. We strung it with lights. We decorated. The next morning, at about 5:30, we heard a panicked little voice from the doorway. Mom! Dad! The tree fell over! We had neglected to secure the top of the tree and the weight of it in a tiny little stand was enough to send it toppling. Very little broke. Most of the ornaments even stayed on. We re-righted it, tied the top to the air vent and had Christmas as normal. I still remember my mother laughing and saying “you got a 13 foot tree and didn’t secure the top?” The subtext: I’m sure I taught you better than that!

I remember the first Christmas we didn’t have Justin. He was working in New York and had decided to go to his girlfriend’s house as it was easier and closer. We skyped with him when we were at Roy and Bobbi’s for dinner.

I remember so much of Christmas’s past. This year, we’re making new memories. Roy and Bobbi are with us for the first time. We went out last night. Today, we all slept in, then started opening presents around 11 o’clock. I think we finished somewhere close to 2. We had mimosas. We had coffee cake. We laughed and shared and made merry.

Tonight we’ll watch the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol, a gift from my husband. We’ll pour wine into Kevin’s new wine decanter. We’ll have homemade manicotti and garlic bread. I’ll toss a salad in my new salad bowl. We’ll continue making merry and making memories because that’s what Christmas is all about.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a celebratory night.

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January begins much the same as December ends

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, January 1, 2014 9:35 PM

As this New Year begins I am celebrating the idea that it starts literally as the last one ended: with Christmas.

Each January 1, I have a tradition. I sleep in a bit later than usual, lounging about with coffee and then, with the annual New Year’s Day Twilight Zone marathon on SyFy, I de-Christmas the house. This year was a little easier than usual simply because I didn’t have as much out and about. I started by taking the wreath off of the front door when we returned from our very late morning walk with Cooper. I wrapped up the extension cord that we had in the courtyard so that we could light the wreath every night.

Then I took the various Santas off of the dining room table. I took the very large Santa, with his wine, grapes and wine menu board, from the entertainment center. The two lamp lighter Carolers were removed from the mantel. The Carolers were all placed in my dining room hutch since that’s really the only place I have for them currently. I don’t have a dedicated space any longer but Kevin is going to build me something. And I just don’t have the heart to put them into a big plastic storage bin.

I went to the storage room in the garage and pulled the various boxes I’d need in order to re-store things. The big wine Santa box; the motorcycle Santa box. The box that holds my near life-size Santa (child size, actually) and the box for the wreath. All of the things that needed restored were on the eat-at bar. The boxes were thrown into the room in front of the bar while I continued to de-Christmas.

I pulled the strands of colored lights from the tree and wrapped them up. Then I pulled the three strands of lights containing grape clusters, followed by the three strands that contain soft plastic wine bottles and glasses. The Santa who hugs the top of the tree was removed and put into the hutch drawer with the stockings.

All of the lights were piled into the bottom of the box that holds the child-size Santa, then he was put into his plastic bag and placed on top. The box was closed and re-taped. The wine Santa was put into his box and taped up; ditto the motorcycle Santa. The wreath was put into its box.

Then I disassembled the tree. It is in three parts that fold or have to be folded down, and placed into its rather large box. That was then followed by a re-taping. Everything was taken back to the storage room in the garage and put away. Christmas music CD cases were restocked with their respective CDs and put back into the Christmas CD section of our somewhat vast CD collection, not to come out again until next year.

The tree at the Arizona Inn, with its 2500 lights

About an hour later, the house was back to normal. I dusted, I changed the sheets on our bed and the bed in the guest room. I cleaned the guest bathroom. We put any residual gifts left over from Christmas morning away. The season had come to its official end.

Except that it hadn’t.

The Arizona Inn, which is family owned, first opened in 1930 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It is nestled off of a side street not far from the University, situated in a lovely neighborhood. It is absolutely exquisite, and each Christmas, they put up a big Christmas tree in the library, strung with more than 2500 white lights. Each evening, between 5 and 8 through New Year’s Day, they serve cocktails in the library next to the tree in front of a roaring fire. We decided that we should end December with Christmas and start January with the end of Christmas. We got ready and drove the couple of miles to the Inn, and walked through the lobby. It’s got an old-world kind of feel to it. Rich with history and wood and atmosphere. We made our way to the library and there was the tree. We settled onto one of the couches flanking the fireplace, ordered a glass of wine and just relaxed, letting the residue of the season past wash over us even as we toasted the new year. It seemed the perfect way to welcome 2014.

Here’s to a year filled with 2500 lights. I can’t think of a better way to live it out loud.

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A growly bear Christmas

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 26, 2013 12:07 AM

Guest post by Cooper

I got up really early this morning, even for me. It was still dark. I don’t know what woke me up but once I’m up I need to get out of my kennel and stretch and shake. Sometimes I get up on the bed, after first putting my cold nose on mom’s nose. That’s the way I know she’s really awake cause she says Cooper! Dad took me out and then I came back and got up for a nap. I guess I got up on the wrong side of the kennel though cause every time mom moved, I growled. I don’t know why but I did and she kept telling me to shush and that if I didn’t settle down. She never finishes that sentence when she says it. I guess she thinks I can finish it for her.

If I didn’t settle down then she’d make me sleep there all day. That’s what I think.

I didn’t settle down but I didn’t get to sleep there all day either because I found out it was Christmas. I kind of knew something was going on because there was a tree in the house and mom kept playing all this special music and then there were boxes under the tree and a round tree on the front door that lit up at night. I know it was at night because when we went for a walk in the morning it was just this round tree, but when we went for another walk and came home at night it was lit up.

Dad kept talking about Santa Paws coming to visit. I don’t always like it when people come to visit, especially if I don’t know them though mom and dad both say I’m getting better. I don’t like guys in uniforms and I heard that this Santa guy wears a red uniform. I wasn’t sure I’d like him if he came to the door. Turns out he comes down the chimney. Now I stood in front of the chimney this morning and I looked and I thought, how does anybody fit down that? Plus we had a fire last night and I know that fire can burn, especially if you’re in fur like me. Santa’s uniform also has fur so I didn’t think that was a good idea.

Me and Santa Butt

When we came out this morning, there was nobody else here but Justin – I really like Justin. He can come visit any time – so I figured that Santa didn’t come. Then I got some new toys and one was a Santa Butt! I looked at dad like, is this the Santa you were talking about? He just laughed.

I got to have some new cookies that my Aunt Khristan sent and that Justin gave me. I like cookies a lot. I watched everybody open their presents and laugh and talk. I was right in the middle, under the table so I could see everything, from where I was by mom’s feet. She pushed on me once or twice, by accident and I didn’t do growly bear because I only do growly bear when I’m on the bed. Don’t know why. It just seems like the place to do growly bear.

But one time, I was in front of the fire and mom came over to pet on me and I gave her a little growly bear and she laughed and said Merry Christmas, growly bear. And so I growled again.

Then I went and got my Santa Butt to chew on because dad said nothing says Christmas like a Santa Butt and since I didn’t get to meet the real Santa his butt is the next best thing. At least that’s what I think. 

The celebration of sadness, and joy, in A Charlie Brown Christmas

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 11, 2013 11:30 PM

A Charlie Brown Christmas first premiered on December 9, 1965. Evidently the executives at CBS, where the show first aired, saw a rough cut in November of that year and hated it. It was slow, there was no laugh track, the characters were voiced by real children rather than adult voice actors, and the score was way too jazzy. They were also very concerned that Linus told the story of Christmas from the Gospel of Luke. Too religious. They were sure they had ruined the idea of Charlie Brown forever.

The show premiered on that fateful Thursday, and it was watched by nearly 50% of the people watching television that night, about 15 million homes. It was second in ratings only to Bonanza. That horrible score by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi has since become one of the most popular Christmas recordings ever. Each year when the show airs, on different networks now, it still draws huge audiences. It aired this year on December 2, and will air again on December 19. 7.1 million people watched it on December 2nd. For a broadcast that is 48 years old, that’s impressive.

I am a sucker for A Charlie Brown Christmas and not just because of the music, though the soundtrack remains one of my favorites. I think I like it because it seems to celebrate both sadness and joy, something profound for adults let alone children. Yes, it’s obviously about the commercialization of Christmas, something that has done nothing but increase since the show first aired in 1965. In the first showing, Coca Cola was a prominent sponsor. According to some, it was a Coke advertising executive who first suggested doing a Peanuts Christmas special. Naturally it would have to have something about Coke as a reference. When the show first aired and Snoopy tossed Linus out of the skating rink, Linus landed against a Coca Cola sign. The sponsorship references were later removed. The special now airs free of any reference to any product whatsoever.

Poor Charlie Brown, ever the pessimist, can’t get into the spirit of Christmas and no matter what he does, from looking into his mailbox for Christmas cards to watching Snoopy decorate his doghouse for a contest to directing the school pageant, he’s miserable. He goes to get a Christmas tree and gets the smallest, most pathetic tree on the lot, with about five needles on its five branches. The kids laugh at him, call him a blockhead, and leave him to wonder if he has any idea what Christmas is really all about.

Cue Linus, who recounts the story about the shepherds and God bringing them tidings of great joy. This cheers our intrepid hero who picks up his tree, and goes home to discover that Snoopy’s overly decorated and gaudy doghouse has won first place. He takes an ornament and hangs it on the tree, which promptly tips over. Even more distraught, Charlie Brown walks away dejected. The other Peanuts kids find it, decorate it and suddenly it’s a lovely little tree, full of hope and promise and joy and the spirit of seeing goodness in all things, in all people.

I don’t know if that’s the ultimate message. It always has been to me. There is a sadness that can permeate the season, when we’re missing those we’ve lost, those closest to us and separated by miles and a country. There is also the sadness of expectations, most of which are overblown. Expectations are things we put on ourselves. Sometimes they’re legitimate, but sometimes they’re based on something that never existed to begin with. Normal Rockwell comes to mind. He painted a picture of a big family celebrating Christmas together and it was somehow deemed that everyone must celebrate accordingly or their Christmas was wrong.

Christmas is what we make it. Some choose to celebrate, some do not. Some spend it with family, some with friends. Sometimes the gatherings are big, something they’re small. The point is to celebrate together; to celebrate the goodness and joy.

As for Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, I think it’s a metaphor. Things may look bleak and doomed, but with a few well-placed lights and ornaments, life begins to look brighter. A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates sadness without condemning it, and it welcomes joy without exploiting it. Sadness and joy intermingle like two exquisite flavors of the same dish to create what is ultimately Christmas. That’s why I love this holiday classic. It clearly states the meaning of Christmas between friends and family, sharing, arguing, enjoying. It has nothing to do with the Gospel of Luke and everything to do with us mere mortals, down here on the planet, together, even when apart; together always. 

Welcoming December

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 2, 2013 11:40 PM

I’ve made no secret of my love of Christmas. I love the music, the lights. I love the smells, the spicy pine, the cookies (even though I don’t eat cookies), the atmosphere. I even love the ridiculous blow-up Santas and Frosties on top of car dealerships. It might be nostalgia. When I was growing up my mom always made Christmas-time special. We lived far from other family so it was often just the five of us but she was – and is – a great baker. She loved to decorate. We had two trees: one in the family room that was for the kids. Twinkling colored lights and all of the mismatched colored ornaments, homemade ornaments; my brother’s train set. The one in the living room was hers. She and my dad would sometimes flock the tree before bringing it in, then she’d string white lights with no twinkle, followed by gold garland. It was a very deliberate process and one that largely bored the kids after a while. She would pull out the glass ornaments and the white and gold balls, the fancier ornaments. She hung each very deliberately. After several hours, the tree was done.

The presents went under my mother’s tree. On Christmas morning we would gather in the living room and open them, one at a time. We always thought that was horrible, mean and slow, but now, I understand. She was trying to preserve the morning. There’s always so much build-up to Christmas. The music, the television specials, the decorations both outside and inside; the cookies, the shopping, the wrapping, the parties. The hype. And then, if you’re not careful, it’s over in a matter of minutes, or at least it seems like that.

My mother doesn’t do the white tree anymore. She has a smaller wall tree that she sometimes puts up, but often doesn’t. She decorates in different ways now, with garland and lights on the mantle; her antique santas. My sister, with her two kids, has taken up the decorating mantra. I don’t think she does two trees, but maybe she does. I know she has lights and wreaths and more on the outside of the house; Department 56 villages inside. Stockings hung by the chimney with care.

In our house, we put up a tree. The last few years we’ve used wine/grape lights and nothing else. We string some white lights outside but not too many. We have stockings. And my Carolers. We adopted the one present at a time idea when Justin was little and it has served us well. In fact, I think we all prefer it, especially Justin. He likes that we take turns, that we enjoy the morning. We’ll be able to do that this year, too, as he’ll be home again in three weeks.

So it’s December and I’m excited for the holidays. I have quite a bit more shopping to do; I wonder about doing something with cards. In the recent past, we’ve sent out some snail-mail cards. It used to be very important when our older relatives were still alive. They didn’t have computers; didn’t do Internet cards. In the long-ago past, Roy, Bobbi and I always did hand-made cards. We haven’t done them in years. Maybe this year we’ll do an electronic card. I’ll write it, Roy will create art, Bobbi will input it graphically and Kevin will program it.


There are many birthdays this month, starting with Roy tomorrow. Kevin’s is on the 8th, then Khris on the 21st, John on the 27th (or maybe it’s the 28th), mine on the 30th. Kevin and I have at least one nephew with a birthday this month; I believe I have a cousin or two also celebrating. Maguire’s birthday was on Christmas day. Justin’s is on January 2nd, so it’s close but not quite.

December is cold and snowy and wondrous and twinkling and bright and full of cinnamon and sugar and all things light. I welcome it, I celebrate it. I can’t wait for it all to unfold as jazz plays in the background and lights softly announce the season, presents get wrapped, stockings hung and joy shared everywhere.

Thoughts on this Sunday morning

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 24, 2013 11:18 PM

The rain has stopped and huge white clouds, some still tinged with gray, drift across the sky. Dramatic shadows grace the foothills making them appear closer and curiously farther away at the same time.

Until recently I sometimes wondered when to use the word further and when to use the word farther. It’s one of those strange phenomena that I never took the time to look up. I was watching something online and one of the characters corrected another character’s use of the word further when he meant farther. Farther connotes actual distance; further is metaphorical distance. Farther has the word far in it. A good way to remember.

I need to wash the car but the dance of the clouds above has me eyeing them with suspicion. The saying goes like this: want it to rain? Wash your car. Of course, I’ve put off washing the car for two weeks and I’m glad I did because it poured for two days. Now the car looks horrible, and I am very particular as to how my car looks.

I’m in the kitchen, at the bar, writing and listening to Seascapes on Live365, a station that has nothing to do with the sea and everything to do with ambient music. Very soothing; very Sunday. I should have the football games on. I’m simply not in the mood. Football makes my blood pressure rise and I have too much to do today to have a heart attack.

See above statement about washing the car.

Justin is home. He flew in last night, arriving about midnight, nearly two hours later than originally scheduled. Buffalo had weather that delayed his departure by about a half an hour. He changed planes in Las Vegas, and because of weather in Las Vegas, as well as the rest of the country, McCarren was running about an hour and a half behind for every single departure. We had dinner around 1 am; bed at 2:30.

Justin and Kevin are out running errands. Kidlet forgot his powercord for his computer and he has a big project due for a final and wanted to work on it while he’s home. It’s on a program that Kevin and I don’t have so he needs his computer. They think they can get something at Best Buy.

Yesterday while cleaning the house in anticipation of Justin’s arrival, Kevin had a great idea on what to do with my Byer’s Choice Carolers. I’ve been collecting these Carolers since the late 1980s. I’m not a collector generally, but I love these guys. Their old Victorian England look, the way they’re all individual. As a fan of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I also have first editions of each one of the characters from that story, most courtesy of my husband. I have some displayed already and year round. But I had many still in a plastic transport box. They used to all co-exist in a curio cabinet I had but I tired of the cabinet and sold it in a garage sale years ago. They haven’t had a permanent home since.

Kevin was in the dining room with me looking at the hutch that isn’t nearly full since I left much of our stuff in boxes. I didn’t unpack the china, or the antique china. I didn’t put out a lot of my good glassware. He said why not put some Carolers in the hutch?


So several Carolers are now in the hutch, dispersed throughout the glass shelves. I put an antique tapestry runner on the dining room table with a Santa in his sleigh, another Santa holding a glass of wine. It looks festive, but not too Christmasy. I decorate; I don’t over decorate. Plus, it’s not yet Thanksgiving. As much as I’m itching for the music and to put up my tree, I have to exercise restraint else my boys will lock me in a closet.

Cooper is snoozing on the floor next to me. His feet are racing. He’s off in a field somewhere and the breeze is blowing through his fur, the sun is on his back. Life is good.

Justin just texted me. They’re on their way back; it’s ok for me to start cooking breakfast. Soon I’ll have all my boys here. Life is good indeed. 

And a bunch of birds next to a palm tree

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 20, 2013 11:27 PM

One of the signature songs of the holiday season is The Twelve Days of Christmas. It was first published in England in 1780 but not as a song. It was a rhyme, or chant, thought to be French in origin. It appeared in a book for kids called Mirth without Mischief, and became a game where one person would recite a verse and the players would repeat the verse. The person would add another verse and the players would repeat that as well as the verses that had come before until somebody made a mistake.

The rhymes/verses were set to music in 1909 by English composer Frederic Austin who also gave the song the prolonged “five golden rings.” Originally, it was just five gold rings. The golden adds so much more.

Some say the lyrics have no meaning at all. Some say that perhaps the gifts described have some sort of significance. For the life of me, I can’t figure out who needs eight maids a-milking or 10 lords a-leaping. Who has the room for them? Some, like the Catholic church, believe that – at least originally – there was meaning to each verse. Because Roman Catholics in England weren’t permitted to practice their faith openly between 1558 and 1829, the church believes that the rhyme and now carol has a code word for religious reality inside each element, and that the twelve corresponds to the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost.

According to Ann Ball, who wrote the Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, the two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments; the three French hens stood for faith, hope and love; the four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the five gold rings represented the first five books of the Old Testament; six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation; seven swans a-swimming represented prophesy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership and mercy; eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes; nine ladies dancing were charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, mildness, fidelity, modesty and continency; the ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments; the eleven pipers stood for the eleven faithful Apostles; and the twelve drummers symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed. The true love doing the giving was Jesus Christ. 

To which I say Dog!

I prefer to think of it as just a harmless little ditty that goes on a tad too long. I’ve always found it a personal challenge to actually remember the verses. I seem to forget every year, and though I love Christmas music, I tend to listen more to jazz and instrumental, even new age Christmas. I don’t know that I’ve heard a saxophone version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. And I don’t know that I care to.

You’re wondering what all of this has to do with anything. It’s quite simple, actually. I thought of the song today as we were walking and came upon a tree loaded with doves. They were spread out on the branches, silhouetted against the clouding sky. They were ghostly, almost statuesque. The day, like the sky, was cold. There wasn’t so much as a coo emitted from any of them. They were just a bunch of birds in a tree, a bunch of birds next to a palm tree.

Which was, according to my research, the original first verse of The Twelve Days of Christmas when my true love gave to me a bunch of birds next to a palm tree.

Again I ask: Who has room for that kind of gift? 

In which I cover myself in words

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 24, 2013 12:04 AM

One of my favorite quotes is by the writer Anaïs Nin, which states, simply, that “We write to taste life twice.” I have it framed and hanging on a wall in my office, just above the light switch. I hadn’t thought until today that it might be a metaphor for the very act of writing. Is writing something we turn on or off? Yes. Is being a writer something that can be turned on or off? I don’t think so. Not for most writers and definitely not the ones who are passionate about it, even when it hurts them, even when it kills them; especially when it brings great joy. To be a writer is not something one does. It is who one is.

I am reminded of this fact all the time because I am never not writing. Oh, there are times when I’m not physically putting words onto paper, or in most cases, to a word document, but even when that’s not happening, I’m thinking about writing, getting ideas for a story or how to write myself out of a particular dilemma I have created in whatever piece I happen to be working on. I’m jotting down thoughts or interesting lines I think of. When I wake up, after an especially vivid dream, I find myself scribbling notes on a piece of paper. My desk is littered with pieces of paper.

I have written before about my fear that I’m not a very good writer, a fear that plagues many. Sometimes I write something and I sit back and think “Wow. That’s pretty damned good.” That doesn’t happen very often. Mostly I write something and I think “Hack.” I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’ve always thought that people cursed with self-awareness inevitably hold themselves back, and I believe that most writers, this one included, are hyper aware. We see things that others don’t see, we hear sounds differently, smells transport us in ways that it don’t others, and we are forever compelled to scribble those awareness’ onto paper, iPhones, iPads, computers, journals, whatever is handy.

When we go for a motorcycle ride, I am the designated RIO, as in radar intercept officer. What I really do is give directions or point out things to watch for in case the pilot, in our case, Kevin, hasn’t seen them. Like the fact that there is a sea of brake lights ahead and the world is coming to a dead stop. Often though, we are out in the middle of nowhere, cruising along a relatively deserted road where we only see the occasional pickup truck or car, sometimes another motorcycle or two, almost always traveling in the opposite direction. We give the designated motorcycle wave, a quick acknowledgement with the left hand that never rises above the seat. It’s a quick “Hey, ride safe” to another cyclist we’ve never met and never will. I have little to do back there save for watching the birds passing low in front of us, or the side of the road for whatever trinkets may have fallen from passing cars. I see a lot of shoes and other items of clothing. Most of the time, I simply let my mind wander and it invariably creates some sort of story or at least the basis for one. Kevin asked me once what it is that I do back there while we’re riding through the canyons or along a back road to nowhere. I told him I write. He just smiled and nodded as if to say “Of course, you do because I’d expect nothing less.” He’s never asked me again.

The novelist Philip Roth once told an aspiring writer to “Quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good.” Elizabeth Gilbert responded by asking if writing is really all that difficult. “Is it more difficult than working in a steel mill, or raising a child alone, or commuting three hours a day to a deeply unsatisfying cubicle job, or doing laundry in a nursing home, or running a hospital ward, or being a luggage handler, or digging septic systems, or waiting tables … or pretty much anything else people do?”

I sometimes envy people who dig septic systems or drive garbage trucks. I have no illusion that they’d rather being doing something else, but perhaps they are perfectly content to simply work for a living and not have to think too much. Writing is constant thinking and it’s exhausting and exhilarating at once. Gilbert has said that writing is “The best life there is, because you get to live within the realm of your own mind, and that is a profoundly rare human privilege.” It also doesn’t usually get you institutionalized, like others who live within the realm of their own minds.

Writers are notorious complainers. We take a gift from the universe and we curse it endlessly, and yet we love it so. We are lost without words, we are forever searching out new ones to twist into sentences that become paragraphs that grow up to be chapters and eventually graduate into a book, hopefully a decent one.

Journalist Red Smith once said that “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” The writer to whom Philip Roth’s advice was cast is Jake Tepper. He wrote in a blog post on The Paris Review that “The one thing a writer has above all else, the reward which is bigger than anything that may come to him … is the weapon against boredom. The question of how to spend his time, what to do today, tomorrow, and during all the other pockets of time in between when some doing is required: this is not applicable to the writer. For he can always lose himself in the act of writing and make time vanish.”

As can I. I write instead of read because if I’m reading, I’m not writing but rather reading something that someone else wrote and I feel guilty and in awe and inspired all at once. I write to explore the joy and sorrow and mystery that is this life. I cover myself in words and I am warm and cozy and scared to death. And so I write more and when I’m done, I can sleep to dream, or ride on the back of the motorcycle to think; I can switch on the light and taste what imagination tastes like. I’m not sure I can describe it, though. Give me just a minute to scribble. 

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