The hiss of the gila monster and the rattle of the snake

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 12, 2014 9:44 PM

The first place Kevin and I lived together was in my townhouse in Calabasas. We had spent the last year and a half of our relationship commuting between his apartment in Woodland Hills and my place affectionately dubbed “the country house.” Country house rightly brings to mind an English Tudor mansion nestled amongst rolling hills, a tree-lined drive leading the way to peace and tranquility.

My townhouse was about 1200 square feet. Nice, but by no means large. It had a good-sized kitchen and a separate dining area which opened down onto a sunken living room. A brick fireplace cut the far wall at an angle, making the room more welcoming. Upstairs there were two bedrooms, one at either end of the hall. The master was huge, with a walk-in closet and a wardrobe, and a nice sized bathroom. It had a two-car garage. After the earthquake, I had to move out for three months while they put shear wall up on the outside, and nearly gutted the interior. I got new tile and brand new carpet; new paint. It was lovely; and it was mine. I bought it after my first husband and I divorced.

After awhile it became ridiculous for Kevin and I to have two places. We were spending every night together. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night in the city (aka Woodland Hills) and weekends in the country. We decided to consolidate. We combined our furniture, sold what we didn’t want and bought some new. We wanted our lives together to literally be a combination of us rather than him moving into my space or me moving into his. It made sense to move into the townhouse because I owned it.

The townhouse was directly on Las Virgenes Road/Malibu Canyon. It’s a busy road. Even though the master bedroom was in the back of the house, away from the road, you could still hear the continuing whine of rubber on asphalt. When we decided we needed more room for the three of us, plus Maguire, we bought a house in Oak Park. Oak Park is a sleepy little niche of a town, wedged into the corner where Agoura, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks meet. We moved in at the end of August in 1997. It was the night Princess Diana was killed. We moved all of our furniture into the garage and spent the day painting and cleaning. At 10 pm, we ordered a pizza, opened a bottle of wine and found one of our televisions. We wanted some “noise.” We turned on CNN and there was the breaking news.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from my mother was this: when you move, the first thing you should do is set up your bed. That way no matter what else you do for the rest of the day, from cleaning to unpacking, when you’re ready to drop from exhaustion, you have a place to drop into.

We went to bed sometime after 1 am. At 5:30, we were awakened by the incessant singing and chirping of birds. We lay there in bed, listening and laughing. Birds! We hadn’t heard birds like this before. We were definitely in the country now.

This morning, I asked Kevin if the birds in Oak Park were as loud as they are in Tucson. He laughed and said he wasn’t sure. Then I began to wonder what we might hear at our new house. As we pondered that, listening to the doves and the sparrows and the cardinals and the pigeons, it suddenly occurred to me exactly what we would hear. In the desert, amongst the cactus and the mesquite, with the hawks circling above, I could already hear it.

The hiss of the gila monster and the rattle of the snake. This is life in the desert and it is glorious. It is living it out loud, while being very careful not to get too close to either else we be dying out loud. 

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Thou shalt not fear the apocalypse

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 4, 2014 10:21 PM

As desert rats, we understand that in the next weeks, we will be descending into the inferno. We are ready, we think; we are prepared, maybe. We know we will become like pieces of pottery, fired in a kiln only to eventually emerge and cool for use. I use this forced metaphor because tomorrow I start a pottery class. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. On Monday nights for the next eight weeks, I will drive through the ever-building heat toward a studio where I will sit at a wheel and throw around wet clay. I can’t think of a better way to cool off.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The coming apocalypse. By apocalypse, I mean the dreaded summer heat of the southwest where daily temperatures are usually at 100º and higher. These temperatures can be found in Southern Arizona and Southern California, especially in the San Fernando Valley of SoCal. There have been days when I have driven across the Valley and been told by the temperature gauge on the dashboard of my car that it is a balmy 116º. 

That is nothing compared to the hottest place on earth, the desert’s own Death Valley where the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth was 134º. Talk about going into the kiln. Several years ago, my mother visited in the summer and we went to Santa Ynez and Los Olivos to do some wine tasting. It was 104º. She’s not used to living in a kiln, but – as my brother likes to joke – at least it’s a dry heat. Like that matters when the temperature is over 100.

To beat this apocalyptic heat, we engage in several activities. One involves staying inside with the air conditioning running, keeping the house at a comfortable 78º. Another involves traveling by car, also with the AC on. And another involves rearranging our lives so as to exercise before 8 am so as not to melt into a puddle of goo. This was the case this morning as we set off on our bicycles. At 8:40. We had good intentions. Last night we went to bed and said we would ride this morning early because of the coming apocalypse. It was supposed to be 95º today (I think it ultimately topped out at 93º). We woke up early and then because we hadn’t slept well because let’s face it, who can when the end of the world is coming, we fell back to sleep. Or rather, we dozed. At 7:35 we awoke with a start. We still had to walk Cooper. We needed to have a cup of coffee. We needed to prepare for the journey, a process that entails Kevin topping off the air pressure in the tires while I get the water bottles ready.

When we finally mounted the bikes and clicked into our pedals, it was already toasty. We rode 13 miles. Not far but it was mostly uphill. Even the brief periods of downhill were uphill. It’s true. I know you’re probably thinking that the heat has started to fry my brain because how can downhills go up, but they can and they do in the desert when it’s hot. Maybe it’s a mirage. By the time we got back, 52 minutes later, we were hot, sweaty, and red-faced, exactly how I would expect the apocalypse to make me.

I don’t know much about the apocalypse actually. My understanding is that it involves guys on horses, rather than bikes. But if my scant knowledge of the end of the world is correct, there is great heat and fire, and the gates of hell or something.

After a winter of nearly no rain, there will be fires. As I write this, there is one burning just east of Los Angeles. The weather people are predicting an apocalyptic fire season that has already started months early. It’s the price we pay for living in the southwest. But I don’t believe the actual apocalypse is coming, nor do I fear it if it does because I’m fairly used to the heat. And besides, I ride a bike. 

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El Niño is coming! El Niño is coming!

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 9, 2014 10:00 PM

While the east has been buried in snow, ice and cold this winter, the west has shriveled up, dried up and blown away like tumbleweed across the Sonoran. It’s been unseasonably warm as well. I had a feeling it probably didn’t bode well for a balmy summer but I tried to convince myself that I was wrong. I’m not a meteorologist. Turns out I was probably right after all.

Yesterday was warmer than usual. Today it’s downright hot and humid. It’s only April 9. I am not amused. Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter. As I write this it’s currently 90º in the OP, according to my iPhone. I suspect it’s even hotter. For some reason the way temperature is sometimes officially charted often seems lower than reality. It’s much the same way with how rain is measured. It can pour for three days and according to the weather gods, we’ve only received half an inch. I don’t understand it and not to be too get-off-my-lawn, but I also don’t believe it.

Most people probably haven’t paid attention to several items that have recently appeared in various places on the interwebs discussing the possibility of an El Niño developing this year. It started small, both the items and the El Niño evidently, but they are now growing proportionally.

Southern Californians tend to equate an El Niño with cataclysmic rain. The kind of rain where you start to think that maybe there really was a Noah and maybe he really did have to build an ark, but not because of the god above. More likely it was because of the god below.

El Niños start in the Niño3.4 region of the Pacific Ocean, south of the Hawaiian islands. Essentially this area of the ocean experiences persistent warming for five or more three-month “seasons.” The water that’s deep below the surface becomes what scientists affectionately call off-the-charts warm. This water moves east, toward the coast of California, propelled by trade winds. Coincidentally the warm water also drifts from down deep to nearer the surface where it says a big hello to the air, boosting temperatures and thus changing weather patterns.

According to those in the know, El Niño-ologists, April could be the month the big boy officially gets started. Considering it’s only April 9, and it’s already 90º, I’d say that’s a safe bet. Evidently the water in the Pacific is about the same temp as that of the biggest El Niño ever recorded, in 1997 – 1998. It’s also the only time since then that water below the surface has been this warm in April.  El Niño wreaks havoc in Indonesia, inducing severe drought; in Peru where the anchovy catch will be affected; in Australia where the dryness is exacerbated; in India where monsoons will proliferate. In California and the west, we pray for El Niño because it usually means lots and lots of rain. Rain leads to flooding which leads to ark building.

Still if it helps keep the tumbleweeds from tumbling and eventually gives us more rain I guess an April 9 temperature of 90º is something we can live with. Of course, ask me in June or July how I feel, when the air is hot enough to raise the hair on my arms and the sun tries desperately to change the color of my hair, when it’s so hot the planes can’t get off the ground and the interior of my car burns my hand when I touch the gear shift. Ask me then.

Still, I’ll smile and I’ll enjoy it because I’ll know what’s coming once the sun turns cooler and the air becomes more friendly. Rain. Rain. Rain. 

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A little slice of power

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 22, 2014 12:03 AM

I don’t normally write about politics because it’s such a nasty business and this blog is all about being positive and uplifting; about celebration. Rarely is there anything to celebrate in the political world. The last thing I truly felt elated about was the election of Barack Obama in 2008. I remember standing in the living room, watching MSNBC, watching the returns come in state after state after state. When the polls closed in California at 8 pm, 11 pm on the east, we watched. Brian Williams said that the polls had just closed in the west, and as the electoral votes started to roll in, he said, simply “it’s 11 pm on the east coast, we’re back on the air, and we have news.” Then he said, “Let’s listen.” And for the next few minutes, all they broadcast was the joy, the cheering, the pandemonium, in Chicago, in New York, In Birmingham, Alabama. California and our exquisite 55 electoral votes pushed it over the top.

We sobbed. And toasted a country that could finally, after our past, and a Constitution that still calls blacks 3/5th of a person, elect a black man as president. A man we actively campaigned for; a man we viewed as transformative.

That was then and this is, painfully, now. For the past six years, we have witnessed a country torn apart by politics, nasty, destructive, mean politics. I have watched in dismay as race has been injected again and again and again. I sobbed in a different kind of way as I’ve watched the disrespect shoveled onto the President of the United States. The man and the office. What had made me so proud has also made me cringe for what our country has dissolved into. It’s me against you, us against them, a you suck no you suck game where no one wins and the country loses.

In 2010, Arizona enacted a horrendous bill, SB 1070, that essentially allowed for the discrimination of driving while brown. We were appalled. Yesterday, that same legislature passed SB 1062, a bill that is supposed to be about religious freedom but in actuality is about businesses being allowed to refuse to serve gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. It’s not just about allowing discrimination; it’s about shouting from the rim of the Grand Canyon that discrimination is a good thing and that it is somehow sanctioned by god.

I am not religious. While I understand that some good can come of religion, I also believe that most of the world’s greatest travesties have, at their root, religion. Ethnic cleansing, the Holocaust; hell, the Crusades of the middle ages. Human beings deigning to decide what side god is on has no place on this earth. If there is a god, he or she must be appalled at all of these shenanigans in his or her name. It’s what leads me to also believe that there probably isn’t a god because why would such an entity allow all of this strife – centuries worth – to continue without swatting us like the flies that we are with a definitive “knock it off.”

We love our adopted Tucson, but from the beginning we’ve been leery of Arizona politics. It just seems so very backward. As much of the country struggles to move forward, states like Arizona seem determined to move back into the middle of the 20th century. It’s cringe-worthy.

We try not to think about it too much. We try to focus on the beauty of the state, on the desert and all of the wonder it has to offer. When Justin was here last week, exploring, he came home each night amazed. He said to us: “When you guys decided to move to Tucson, I just didn’t get it at all. But I realized that all I knew was the little bubble of the University. I get it now.” It made us feel vindicated somehow. Our kid has endorsed and even embraced our new life. We were feeling good.

And then came yesterday. Once again, we were horrified and embarrassed. I have found myself questioning why I would want to live here. I’ve also been determined to find something good in this, if there can be any good. I found it thanks to a man named Rocco DiGrazia, proprietor of Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria.

Yesterday, Rocco tweeted this: “As a longtime employer and feeder of the gay community, Rocco’s reserves the right to eject any State Senators we see fit to kick out. That is all.” A short time later, a sign was posted in the window of his pizzeria that says the same thing. I told Kevin about it at lunch. His immediate response: we’re going for dinner.

Evidently we’re not the only ones. I don’t know how many likes they had on Facebook this morning but when I liked them this afternoon, they had just over 6,000, a number I suspect began to climb after the Huffington Post featured a short article. The story has since picked up steam and has gone national. As I write this, they have 9,343 likes and it’s climbing almost by the minute.

It’s Facebook I realize, but the fact that so many people – some from as far away as Australia – are taking the time to seek out this little Chicago-style pizzeria in the Old Pueblo makes me feel better. It makes me feel that maybe people are finally starting to get fed up with all of the crazy and are ready to stand up and say “enough.”

We’ll support Rocco’s with more than a like. We’re leaving to get our pizza in just a few minutes. Here in the OP, we say live and let live, and live it out loud.

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Snow days long past

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, February 5, 2014 11:58 PM

Like many kids in the northeast, my sister’s are home from school today. As I write this, they’ve received 8 inches this morning and it’s still snowing. They’ve had many snow days so far this season. When I talked to Khris yesterday, she mentioned that they were probably going to have another day off today. For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about that and remembering the snow days we used to have when I was a kid and lived back east.

In those days, weather was forecast on the radio and the television. And the sky; always the sky. Incoming snow has a very distinct look in the sky. The clouds are more of a blanket, think and cottony. They look cold. Rain clouds are more formed and become black on the bottom. Not so snow clouds. They gather and knit together. The temperature drops, the air feels almost dry. When it starts to snow, it’s with just a flurry or two, as if it’s testing the idea.

When I was young and snow had been forecast, I would periodically flip the light on outside the front door and peer through the glass sidelight, out into the blackness, straining to see a flake. If I did, I knew the weather reports were on target. Regardless, I’d go to bed hopeful that the morning would bring enough snow to warrant a cancellation of school. In the morning, my mother would inform us that it had snowed and we’d put the radio on. The local news channel would read the list of school cancellations. We had to wait until they got to our district as they’d be announcing for essentially the whole state. When they got to ours and our school was mentioned, excitement ensued for everyone save my mother. When we weren’t included on the list, we begrudgingly got ready for school. We felt cheated as if we were owed a snow day.

Technology has progressed to where mass phone calls and text messages are now sent by the school district in the event of a school closure. I got such a message in the middle of one night when Justin was still in high school. The phone rang around 3:15 am. Any time a phone rings at 3 in the morning, it’s cause for alarm. I grabbed it only to hear the voice of Tony Knight, the superintendent of the Oak Park School District, informing me, as the parent of an Oak Park school student, that due to the fires burning in Oak Park, school would be closed.

It was the fires burning in Oak Park that got me up and out of bed in a big hurry. When I had gone to bed, there were no fires burning. I went out into the back yard and sure enough, the sky was orange, the air thick with smoke and ash. I knew we weren’t in danger of catching fire, but I could see why they cancelled school. I went back in, closed everything up, went into Justin’s room and turned off his alarm so he could sleep in. He was a teenager. If his alarm didn’t go off, he wouldn’t get up.

I miss having snow days. I’m sure my sister, much like our mother, isn’t so fond of them because it means having the kids home when they shouldn’t be, and thus disrupting her day. Until we had our fire day, I hadn’t really thought about it from a parent’s point of view. I did that day.

Snow days were cold and cozy. My mom used to make us a hot breakfast. We’d have hot chocolate and toast. I always loved dipping my buttered toast into my hot chocolate. I loved the silence of those days, the way the snow quieted the earth. When I remember those days now, it’s with nostalgia and not just a little bit of want and wanting to once again live it out loud under the peace of the snow.

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Feliz Navidad

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 24, 2013 10:02 PM

Spending our first holiday season in the Old Pueblo has introduced us to a number of new festivities. There was the snow at La Encantada, blasted out of mini snow machines at 6 and 6:45 on Friday and Saturday nights as carolers sang below. It was actually very Christmasy, and certainly cold enough for snow. That’s something we had not expected in our move from Southern California. It gets cold there, to be sure, but it seems colder here in the desert. I’ve spent the last weeks bundled up even in the house. The night we went to La Encantada for snow, we had to duck into a local restaurant and sit next to their fire so I could get warm. It felt very much like the holidays.

The spectacle that is Winterhaven is quite something. This is a neighborhood not far from here where they’ve had an annual Festival of Lights every year since 1949 when a man named CB Richards created the small residential area. It was Mr. Richards who purchased the first lights used in the first festival. He also purchased the Aleppo pine trees that line the neighborhood, quite out of place in the desert, except during the Christmas season when the temperatures often curl around 30 degrees. There are electrical connections near each tree so that hundreds of thousands of white, red, blue and green lights can blaze beautifully, in the trees and on the houses. Those lights have shown brightly every year save one, during the energy crunch in the 1970s. It’s a stunning display and something Kevin and I had never experienced before moving here. What’s even better is that cars are only allowed on three nights, and two of those are after Christmas.

The Festival is free but the residents request a donation of canned food. In 2012, they raised nearly $21,000 and offered approximately 34,000 pounds of food to the local food bank.

Many homes outside of Winterhaven also decorate for the season. As newcomers we wondered if somehow the Dark Skies Ordnance, which dictates there be no bright lights at night, including street lights, would preclude people from putting lights on their houses and dancing reindeer in their front yards. We needn’t have wondered. Many trim their homes in lights, and wire-framed reindeer graze merrily. Luminarias are also plentiful. These candlelit brown paper bags are also called farolitos, meaning little lanterns, which according to my research may or may not be the correct term. The tradition of using these small lanterns first began in the 16th century as a way to light the way toward Midnight Mass on the final night of Las Posadas, a reenactment of the story of Mary and Joseph and their search for an inn in Bethlehem.

I’ve long loved the look of luminarias. In the past, paper bags were filled with sand and a candle was placed inside. Today, there are electric luminarias, undoubtedly safer and easier, though not quite as eerily beautiful, with the live flame contained and dancing inside the bag.

Experiencing the holiday season in Tucson has been one of wonder and joy, an adventure in finding the right coat to wear. For 25 plus years, our Christmases were spent in Los Angeles. While we didn’t have family there we did have our closest friends, our chosen family. We would all gather for Christmas dinner; the day after would be spent wine tasting in Santa Barbara county. It’s hard to move to a new area and I worried about the holidays especially. I wondered if we would be lonely, if we’d find new traditions. What we’ve found is a city alive with spirit, and color, and lights, and that this season – my favorite – is bursting with local traditions, new to us, perhaps to others as well. From light festivals like Winterhaven to the historic Arizona Inn, where 2500 tiny lights are strung on a 16 foot tree that’s then decorated with glass, wooden Santas, colored tin ornaments from Mexico, white doves and more we have found music, snow, theatre and Tucsonans making merry.

We have a tree in our new home, my Byer’s Choice Carolers collection, and a simple wreath on our front door, one with white lights and flocked snow. At night, it illuminates the drive and lights our way.

Each evening, when the temperatures drop and Christmas lights blaze to life, the new traditions present themselves readily. We put on a heavy coat and a scarf, gloves for our hands, and with our beloved Cooper in tow, off we go to walk through our local neighborhoods, breathing in our new city and its festivities. We find ourselves marveling at the decorations, listening to the sounds of children playing and dogs barking, of shoppers rushing to and fro. We’re at home here – we’ve come home – and we’re embracing our new lives in the Old Pueblo. Feliz Navidad indeed.

A little space please

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 18, 2013 12:05 AM

One of the biggest phenomena around seems to be small houses. I’m fascinated by these little places. Sometimes they’re fitted into very small areas in very big places like New York City; other times they’re on very big spaces, in the middle of big lots in Montana. People are evidently flocking to these tiny houses because they’re less expensive, for obvious reasons. They’re less to take care of. It gives the dweller the ability to actually have a more fun-filled life because they have more money to spend because it’s not all going to a mortgage.

There are downsides to smaller living, of course. It’s nearly impossible to do with a family. Two can barely live in 200 or 300 square feet, let alone one or two with children. Most small spaces only have one bedroom. There is usually a small kitchen and a convertible dining room. An office area becomes part of both. There is a living area as well, that is also part of the dining room and kitchen. Rather than the great room, these small spaces have all-encompassing rooms. Rooms that do it all. All for one and one for walls.

Small living was what Gulliver’s Travels was sort of about. Lemuel Gulliver, an Englishman, is shipwrecked and awakens to find himself bound by innumerable tiny threads and tiny captors standing next to and on top of him. They live small; they don’t quite understand how Gulliver is so very big. They don’t understand how he can live like that; he doesn’t understand how they can live as they do.

From the time we’re little we accumulate things. When we’re small, it’s toys. We go through school and have radios and bikes. We get out of school and we have a car, if we’re lucky, maybe a stereo. Clothes. That’s what I had when I graduated from college. Everything I owned fit into the back of my Toyota Celica, with room to spare. It was a small car but I had big dreams.

As we grow older, we have more things. We get our first apartment and we need furniture. The furniture goes with us as we move to a bigger apartment. We get a bigger car. We accumulate more and bigger stuff. We get rid of our smaller stuff. Furniture begets more furniture. Dishware begets more dishware. Coffee cups multiply as do wine glasses. One bedroom becomes two becomes four. There are desks and computers and bookshelves and entertainment centers and lamps and rugs and big screen televisions and stereos and antiques and pillows and tables and hutches and music stands.

It goes on and on.

Little almost always becomes big. We’re born small; soon we become big. We grow. Our stuff grows. Our houses grow. Our space on this earth grows.

As people grow older, they often downsize, make their lives smaller. I wonder if it’s an attempt to return to a time when things were simpler, when they were little themselves and had their whole lives to look forward to.

When we were small and had just a little space and all we wanted was to be big and have more.

I wonder if that’s why I’m so fascinated with small houses. We’re building a big house, the biggest we’ve ever had. We’ve lived in small houses previously, though none as little as the ones currently all the rage. Because we have so much stuff, we decided we needed more space. Maybe that means we’re not ready to get older; not quite ready to return to when things were more simple. Perhaps we’ll be ready some day, perhaps we’ll want to be small again, when we need just a little space to continue living it out loud. 

It's 2:42 am and there's something in the backyard

by Lorin Michel Thursday, November 14, 2013 9:42 PM

It started with Cooper pushing open the door to his kennel, which we no longer latch. I heard him but expected him to do what he usually does which is come over to my side of the bed and place his head on the mattress next to me. Pet me, mom. I would then dutifully pet before getting out of bed, pulling his padded rug from his kennel and putting it on the floor next to me so he can curl up and sleep, which he does promptly. It didn’t happen that way.

Instead, he proceeded to stand under the window, ears perked, staring up and out, a low growl and a quiet woof emitting about every 10 seconds. It was the kind of woof that said I hear something, I’m not sure yet if we need to be concerned but we might want to check it out. Growl. I’ll let you know. Woof.

Being a relatively smart woman, I looked at the clock – 2:42 – got out of bed and went to the window. That’s when I heard it. A crunching of the leaves. It had been very windy here over the past two nights, pushing dry, dead, crunchable leaves up against the house, but last night was still. Only the occasional hum of a car on the road disturbed the quiet. Far off, howling coyotes fought over food, or something.

I put my head up close to the window, making sure I was actually hearing something. There it was again, crunching. Someone or something was walking beneath the bedroom window. I took a step back. Crap. What was it? Who was it?

Occasionally I experience a touch of paranoia. It doesn’t happen often, but for some reason, sometimes at night, when the windows are open and the night is quiet and I’m awake, I’m sure I’m going to see someone in the backyard. This is not rational, I realize. But there it is. I’ll lie snug under the covers, my eyes trained on the window, waiting for the shape of something non-existent to appear. This is ridiculous for several reasons, one of which is that if there was in fact someone there, Cooper would be sure to alert me. He’s good at that. Growl. Woof.

I stood there, shivering. It was in the low 50s, not cold, but cool. Crunch crunch. I decided it wasn’t a person, though it did occur to me that a head could pop up in the window at any time. The coyotes had stopped screeching. Maybe one was in the backyard. Maybe it was a mountain lion. Perhaps it was just one of the cats I had heard recently, fighting in the middle of the night. Not taking my eyes from the window, I took a step back and touched Kevin’s arm. I put my mouth down close to his ear and whispered there’s something in the backyard.  What? There’s something in the backyard. He got up and joined me at the window.

Cooper, his work done, turned and went back into his kennel. He spun around twice, the tin floor crunching beneath the pad, and laid down. He was snoring within minutes. This made me believe that whatever was out there was probably not dangerous. Either that or he figured we were bigger with more resources, so he felt safe putting us in charge.

Kevin and I stood there, hunched over, peering through the open blinds as if being hunched would somehow make our vantage point better. There it is, he whispered. Where? In the backyard, there by the tree. Is it a cat? No. I don’t think so. Well it’s not a coyote or a mountain lion. It’s just sort of stalking its way along. I think it’s a skunk. A skunk? I’ll go check. No. You can’t go check. If it’s a skunk and you startle it it’ll spray. I won’t startle it. What are you going to do? I’m just going into the living room. Relax. I won’t startle it.

Soon the light came on. All that did was obscure the skunk from my view at the window. It didn’t startle; it didn’t spray. It just continued to make its way along the wall, crunching. We went back to bed, listening. Soon it was under the window again. Cooper stirred but didn’t growl or woof. And then it was gone, having squeezed under the side fence in search of another adventure.

I looked at the clock. It was exactly 3. There was no longer anything crunching, nothing to worry about, but we stayed awake for a while, listening and talking, and laughing about Kevin, Lorin and Cooper’s big adventure with something in the backyard. 

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Gimme shelter dogs

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 14, 2013 10:36 PM

October is a great month. It gives rise to falling temperatures. It also ushers in shorter days and longer nights, which is always disconcerting at first but is also a phenomenon that conveys the seasons that will soon set upon us. Halloween happens this month, albeit at the very end. It is also national adopt a shelter dog month and to this dog lover, that’s definitely worth celebrating.

Maguire was a shelter dog. Actually, he was a shelter puppy on his way to being a dog when Kevin and Justin found him one Saturday morning in February. Somewhere between eight and 10 weeks old, he was 10 pounds of fluff and fury. We adopted him from the Agoura Animal Shelter as soon as they would let us, which turned out to be Monday morning at 7:30 am. For the next 15 years he was our baby, our Honey Bear, and eventually our vintage puppy. After he passed away on March 6 of 2012, our hearts were broken and our lives were terribly empty. When there is a dog in the house, as dog lovers can attest, there is a fullness that almost can’t be explained. No matter how small the dog, they fill the space with love and fun and joy and fur. At the end of October, 2012, we adopted Cooper, our seven year old golden retriever mutt of puzzling origin and even more puzzling behavior. He’s a challenge, much more so than Maguire ever was, largely because of his alternatively aggressive and clingy personality. Many of his behavior patterns were formed long before we brought him into our home.

Still. He fills the house with fun and mayhem and mania and fur. He’s ours until the end which hopefully won’t happen for quite some time. When it does, we’ll eventually dry our tears and find another shelter or rescue dog to adopt and bring into our home because saving a dog is tantamount to saving ourselves.

In 1824, a group of 22 animal loving philanthropists in Great Britain organized the first official dog shelter to help rescue stray and unwanted dogs. They called their organization the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the SPCA. For years they struggled to get the people of England to understand their chosen mission but as there was already such class distinction in England, people chose to concentrate on people. But they persevered and eventually, the SPCA became more popular. In 1840, Queen Victoria granted permission for the society to be renamed the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the RSPCA. It seems Queen Victoria was a dog lover and at the time, her companion of choice was a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Dash. After Dash passed away, she surrounded herself with Pomeranians and was purported to have as many as 35 at one time.

Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866. In 1869, one of the first animal shelters in this country opened its doors in Pennsylvania, and in 1877, the American Humane Society was formed. That was also the year the first anti-cruelty laws were enacted. New York city began offering shelters for dogs and cats in 1894.

There are now upwards of 5,000 – and perhaps as many as 6,000 – shelters across the country and even more rescue groups. More than 9 million dogs and cats enter shelters every year and up to about 4 million are euthanized because there simply isn’t the room. Many shelters have adopted no kill policies, and many animal groups push for spay/neuter awareness in order to help reduce the number of unwanted pets. Adopting from a shelter also helps. In fact, according to AnimalShelter.org, 4 million pets are adopted from shelters each year.

It never occurred to us to not go to a shelter to find a dog, and ultimately we found the best dog (in our humble opinion) that has ever lived in the form of Maguire. When it was time to get another, we also went to a shelter and ultimately found Cooper at a local rescue group. We don’t know his story; we never will. But we adopted him and have given him his forever home.

Shelter dogs and cats just want a home. We’ve been blessed to offer ours to two wonderful dogs who both moved in and took over our lives and our hearts. National Adopt a Shelter Dog month is just another reason for me to love October. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the perfect reason. 

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live out loud

On the bike again

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 13, 2013 9:53 PM

When Kevin and I first started dating, I was into biking. I had bought a hybrid several years earlier, shortly after my divorce, and spent many a happy Saturday and Sunday morning merrily riding through the canyons of Calabasas, Malibu and Agoura. Enter Kevin, who wasn’t a cyclist. He had a bicycle, an old 10-speed, that he had somehow procured in his divorce but it had belonged to his ex-wife so it was too small for him. Still, he liked the idea of getting into biking as well so we tooled around a bit, his lanky 6-foot frame on a bicycle built for someone 5’6”.

He ended up liking the idea so much that he also bought a hybrid. For the uninitiated, a hybrid is a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. They were very popular in the early to mid 1990s with people like us buying them because we didn’t really want to ride on trails and we didn’t really want to spend the money for a good road bike.

It was Kevin’s first brand new bike and he was thrilled. He had a bicycle that fit him and it was top of the line for the time. 

The more we rode, the more we enjoyed it and the quicker we realized that the hybrids, as great as they were, just didn’t suit our purposes. We really needed road bikes. We bought our first roadsters around the time we moved in together, in 1997. They were great and we put a lot of miles on them. Road bikes are lighter, with thinner tires and therefore travel much further much more easily. We put so many miles on our new road bikes that we quickly realized, again, that we needed something even lighter. After quite a bit of research, Kevin decided that what we needed were KHS so that’s what we got. 18 speeds, two chain rings so the low gears are more powerful for cranking on the flats and getting some good speed but the high gears don’t give as much ease for climbing. We don’t have what is known in the cycling world as “granny’s.” Granny gears allow someone to sit on their saddle and climb a hill, their legs churning without working too hard and the bike taking virtually forever to get anywhere.

We’ve had the KHS bikes for a number of years now. We used to ride 50 to 100 miles a week. But that has dissipated. In fact, we haven’t been on the bikes for at least six months if not closer to a year. Maybe it’s even more. I’ve lost track. Life gets in the way; we haven’t made the time. But when we go into the garage, we never fail to gaze longingly at our gorgeous metallic blue road bikes hanging on their hooks, gathering dust, their tires now devoid of air. Lately we’ve been talking about getting back on them. And today is the day that happens.

Kevin has dusted them off, re-inflated the tires, lubed the chains. I’ve found the water bottles and they’re filled with cool, not cold water. We only drink water when we ride; no electrolyte beverages for us. Water is what we need; water is what we have.

We’re going to slip into our biking clothes, the black spandex shorts with the padded crotch and the brightly colored Lycra tops. We’ll slip into our cycling shoes, the kind with clips on the bottom that attach to the peddles so you have to clip in and clip out when you start and stop. I hope we can remember how; otherwise we’ll tip over. We’ll put them into the Range Rover and head east, to a nice stretch of road that climbs a bit at first. We’ll get to the end and then turn around for more of a coast on the way back. We’ll have parked where there’s a great coffee/breakfast place we like so that afterwards, we can get some coffee, maybe a muffin. It won’t be a long ride, but it will be a good ride, one to get us back on the saddle again, and on the road again.

All apologies to Willie Nelson. 

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