If you build it

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 6, 2013 8:23 PM

In his book Walden and Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “They can do without architecture who have no olives nor wines in the cellar.” It’s an odd quote, one that requires a twisting of the mind. When I encounter a quote like this, one that makes me wonder, I find myself saying it out loud, as if speaking it will somehow make it instantly understandable. Sometimes it works. My simplistic understanding of this quote is that if you don’t have stuff you don’t really need a place to keep it. If you are not encumbered by the accumulations of life, an elaborate dwelling, or any dwelling at all, is not necessary.

I have both olives in the pantry and wine in the cellar so I cannot really do without architecture. I also happen to be a very big fan of architecture, especially as it relates to homes. Most homes are gentle designs. By that I mean, mostly functional, not necessarily interesting though not at all boring. They are places to live, to decorate with family photographs, favorite posters and pieces of art, to arrange furniture, to paint and wallpaper, built for their inhabitants to cluster around the dinner table or the fireplace. They provide shelter; they are a place where we love our kids, our pets, our favorite television shows, each other. They are mostly non-descript. Pretty but ordinary. They are where we people with olives and wine live. They are homes.

We live in a small tract home in Southern California. It’s cute and meets all of the criteria just described. There are at least a dozen just like it – save for the exterior color and landscaping – all around us, dotted between other homes of which there are a dozen just like. We bought it back in 1997 because the school system here is great, one of the best in the state, and because it was what we could afford. The tract home is the affordable home. They are designed by someone but they are not unique, there is little attention paid to detail. They are cookie cutter designs; lots that are exactly the same. It’s inside where they come alive.

Real architecture is done by those hired to design and build custom homes and buildings. It’s a process that is nearly as old as man. The word itself is from the Latin architectura and the Greek arkhitekton meaning chief builder/carpenter/mason. It has come to describe the process of planning, designing and construction of a building. The best buildings are thought to be cultural symbols and even works of art. Architecture can be both a generic term, or something that infers a particular style or method of design. It encompasses everything from urban design and landscaping to construction details and even furniture. Since the internet became part of our daily lives, architecture is also now used to describe information technology.

Much like what we use our architecture for today, yesterday’s building evolved from need. Shelter, security, worship. In ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece architecture was used as a way to engage the supernatural. Witness the pyramids and the Parthenon. Building evolved from there, building its way toward structures like the Taj Mahal, Notre Dame in Paris, the castles of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the Paris Opera. Architects like Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Ieoh Ming Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright ushered in the era of modern architecture with their buildings like the Villa Savoye in France, the Seagram Building in New York, the controversial glass and steel pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, and Falling Water in rural Pennsylvania.

One of the worst remake movies ever filmed featured the re-teaming of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in The Lake House. Perhaps the only decent thing about it was that Reeves’ character was an architect and at one point in this rather dull and uninspiring romp, took Bullock’s character on a walking tour of some of his favorite buildings in Chicago. With his voice-over guiding her, she discovers the history and wonder of both monumental buildings and forgotten bungalows, of walls and bridges and water fountains. It shows the scope and the power that buildings and designs have to form our lives even as we form them.

I have long been fascinated with the art of designing and building buildings. It is so precise and yet so organic, so meticulous and still completely flowing and interpretive. I love to look at the angles, the height. When I find a building I truly love, I can sit in front of it for hours and stare. It talks to me somehow; it tells me stories, sings me lullabies, makes me want to know its history, its loves and its sorrow. My dream is to someday build a building – specifically a house – that tells me all of those things, tells me stories of my life to come, and especially tells me where I can put my olives and my wine. Hopefully it will be in a wine cellar built for us and only for us.

Some day.

Some day soon. 

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live out loud

The zen of sit: Observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 5, 2013 8:31 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here and I’m a little dizzy. It seems that things are moving very fast around here lately and it’s enough to make a squirrel’s head spin. First there was all that celebrating that went on, with too many cars and an awful lot of people. I stayed hidden for days; it was just too scary to be out there where I could go splat and you all know how Mrs. Squirrel feels about splat. I don’t feel much better about it to tell you the truth.

There were lots of lights everywhere, too. Little lights and bigger lights and some lights that were in the shape of big animals. Those scared me at first because I didn’t quite know what to make of them. It was like there was suddenly a big twinkling deer in the neighbor’s yard only it didn’t smell like what I think a deer probably smells like. Also, it never moved.

Then there were these really big shapes that swayed in the night air. During the day they were just collapsed on the grass in a mostly white heap. It looked kind of like snow only it wasn’t. Of course, a couple of nights it was cold enough to snow. Me and Mrs. Squirrel had to huddle up real close in order to keep warm. I like huddling. Not sure the missus likes it quite as much but she was a good sport.

I sat on the grass one morning, in front of one of these collapsed things and tried to talk to it. It had been so big and sort of scary the night before, but then it looked like it got attacked or something. I wanted to know what had happened so I could be on the lookout for whatever or whoever it was. I figured if it could get to something that big, it could for sure get to something small like me. But I couldn’t get that blobby white thing to talk to me so after a few barks I gave up and started back toward the house.

That’s when the red blur came by. He spotted me and immediately he lunged and growled and barked at me, too. I went half way up the tree in the front yard since he kind of startled me and then I hung there, upside down, just looking at him. He pranced and danced and then he stopped and he stood frozen, his ears forward, his body tense. He has good form, this red knight-to-be, and he’s handsome, too. Not as handsome as the first knight, my best knight. No one will ever been that handsome, but this red furred one is a good-looking dude. He’s a little wild still. As if to prove that, Hey Kevin who was with the red furred one said “Cooper, zen.” I think he followed it up with a dammit and I chuckled. It’s hard to train a new knight. I know that better than just about any squirrel.

“Hey Kevin?” I asked, safely on the tree.

“Oh, Hey Squire,” he said followed by “Sit!”

I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean me.

“What’s up with the zen?” I asked.

“Well, he’s a nut and I thought that if we could get him to understand the idea of zen then our walks wouldn’t be quite so, well, crazy.”

I thought about that for a couple of seconds, then I turned my eye toward the one they call Cooper. He was eyeing me, too. But he was sitting. He was calm even though all of his fur seemed to be electrified. If I so much as moved a whisker, I knew he’d spring forward. So zen must mean sit. Good to know.

Cause I’ve got some work to do with this one.

Treme in the OP

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 1, 2013 7:34 PM

Last night was fairly uneventful here in Oak Park. We don’t go out on New Year’s Eve, haven’t in years. We used to get together with Roy and Bobbi, especially when Justin was little. Often we’d have lobster, but that got expensive and messy, and I hated having Roy and Bobbi out driving during what is traditionally a not-good-night to drive. People are a tiny bit more responsible, perhaps, than they used to be when it comes to drinking and driving, but why put yourself in that position if you don’t need to?

For several years now, probably since Justin went away to college and maybe even before that, we all prefer to hang in our respective houses; last night was no different. Kevin and I walked Cooper early. The evening was cool, pillow-top clouds dotted the darkening sky, lit from below by the setting sun. It was just about 5 pm and the temperature was dropping. Another cold night was ahead. I thought briefly about all of the people camped along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, saving their piece of sidewalk for a perfect view of the Rose Bowl Parade in the morning. It’s a tradition, to sleep on the cement and freeze, wake up at dawn to see your breath crystallize in the air, and then have to hunt for a bathroom and an egg mcmuffin. I’ve never been to the parade; have absolutely no desire. Kevin and I don’t even watch it on television. But people come from all over the country and it’s a very big deal. Clouds or not, it wasn’t going to rain. It never rains on the Rose Bowl Parade. It simply isn’t allowed.

Cooper was his usual semi-manic self as we cruised through the neighborhood. He is wonderful in the house, gentle and mellow, but the minute we pull out his leash he turns into Crazed Puppy. We’re thinking of having a cape made. He acts like he’s never been for a walk in his life and he’s very very very excited and did he tell you how much he likes to walk and oh-boy we might see other dogs and I can’t wait can’t wait can’t wait can we go go go go NOW?!!!!!

We’re exhausted by the time we leave the house. And this is actually better than he used to be. When he first came to live with us, he was … what’s the word I’m looking for? I know it; it’s right on the tip of my tongue. Horrible. That’s it. He. Was. Horrible. He pulled, he lunged, he strained his collar or his harness so much he choked himself. I called a friend of ours, a dog trainer, who lives up in Washington State. Here was our conversation:

“Deb? He’s a nut.”

Deb: “We can fix this. You won’t believe how easy it is.”

“You’re right. I won’t. Because he’s a nut-bag. A total and complete bag of nuts and when he sees another dog, he’s like a freakin’ kite. We’re walking along and suddenly the dog is airborne.”

Deb: “He’ll be fine. Let me tell you what to do.”

I listened. I took notes. I asked questions. I relayed the information to Kevin. We tried it. He was still sort of a kite, but moderately better. We finally got a pinch collar, and he’s actually a lot better. Now he at least keeps his feet, all four of them, on the ground.

We do this walking thing twice a day, and each time the reaction is the same. OMG, a walk! A walk! A WALK!

Last night, as with so many nights, by the time we started back toward the house, he had calmed down. His gait was a bit slower; there was a little slack in the leash. As we ambled down the sidewalk, under the now darker and purple clouds, we could hear music. We paused, listening. It sounded like it was outside but we couldn’t see anything or anyone and it seemed to be too cold to be playing outside. Then we saw them, on the sidewalk, just rounding out of the cul de sac near the house. A guy sitting cross-legged with his guitar; a girl with her knees bent under her so she was just above him, playing the violin.

We stopped to listen. They didn’t see us. They didn’t seem to care that there were people out, walking, seeing them, hearing them play. They were in their own world, entertaining themselves, even as they actually entertained others. The music was good, not great, but the fact that these two kids, maybe in the early stages of high school were sitting outside in the cold, in the dusk, playing live music, was astonishing.

I don’t know what the song was. It didn’t matter. As we continued on, with Kevin holding Cooper’s leash, and me walking next to my two boys, Kevin chuckled quietly:

“What?” I asked.

“It’s a little like Treme right here in the OP,” he said.

The music filled the cold night air and the sun finally dipped down. The clouds disappeared into darkness and so did the music. We went into the house to celebrate New Year’s Eve. But outside, in the OP, some live music was playing. What a spectacular way to say hello and welcome to 2013. 

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The isle of Oak Park

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 21, 2012 8:32 PM

People speak of the glowing green hills of Ireland in hushed tones. I haven’t been lucky enough to visit the place called the Emerald Isle but everyone I know who has says the same thing. It is stunning. Awe-inspiring. Pick-your-jaw-up-off-the-ground beautiful. Rolling and lush grasses, waving in the gentle ocean breeze, the sea snarling into the rocks below. Sheep grazing on the hillsides; castles dotting the cliffs and tucked into the crevices of the valleys. Lads sidled up to the bars in the pubs, raising a pint of Guinness or Smithwick’s, dogs lazing at their feet lapping up the spillage. Sun glinting off this mystical land.

Today was sunny here in Oak Park, the first such day in quite some time. We’ve had rain it seems for weeks, and if not rain, heavy clouds and heavier air, the threat of moisture thick. The temperatures have been cold as well. The nights get into the low 30s, the mornings stay there. We’ve walked Cooper this week early and it has been 32º, 34º, 36º. The grass on the lawns is covered with frost, ditto the fallen leaves and branches, the pinecones and needles crunch. The puddles aren’t frozen but they’re cold; the moss on the sidewalks is slick as ice. It’s a little like New England with palm trees. We bundle up with heavy coats and gloves and off we go.

The temperature at lunch today was around 50º so it was nearly balmy. It’s not going to last. Weather is coming in tomorrow with rain promised for tomorrow night, Sunday and Monday, partly cloudy on Christmas and then more rain immediately following with high temperatures at 57º during the day, 30º at night. We decided to take advantage of the relative warmth and set off on a walk. Soon enough we were quite toasty. Up the Bowfield hill we trudged, cresting the top and marveling at the sun and the lack of wind. The air still had a hint of cool but the sun was warm and lovely and as we started down the other side, toward Rockfield, I happened to notice one of the many hiking pathways that lead up into the canyon foothills. During the summer, these pathways are dusty, the foliage brown and dry. Rattlesnakes curl up on the edges; sometimes they stretch across sunning themselves. In the winter, they’re hibernating in a hole somewhere. And the paths are lush with a near phosphorescent green grass, the kind of grass that grows spontaneously after a long hot summer when the ground is suddenly and completely saturated with water.

The sun was streaming down from a near cloudless sky. In the distance wisps of rain were beginning to gather, thin and harmless, at least today. The brush and bushes were still; birds hung in the trees chirping. I stopped and for just a minute, I had a fleeting glimpse of Ireland. In my imagination, in the stories I’ve heard, I knew that this is how beautiful that land must be.

It’s the Winter Solstice. In Ireland people gather at the ancient site of Newgrange, a rock formation whose rooftop opening allows sunlight to penetrate the passage and chamber beneath as the sun rises on each Winter Solstice. At approximately 9 am on the morning of the solstice, a narrow beam of light filters through to the floor and gradually extends toward the back. As the sun continues to rise, the beam widens to illuminate the chamber. For 17 minutes, this light warms the earth and proclaims the arrival of winter. Built over 5000 years ago, Newgrange remains one of the most prolific and gorgeous places on earth to feel the power of the sun, and of this new season.

We’re far, so far from Newgrange here in Southern California. There are many places of great beauty but none so exquisite, perhaps because of the mysticism surrounding Ireland and the Celtic legends, perhaps because it is simply from another time and so much of what we have here is from this time, this now.

On this Winter Solstice, I’m celebrating a beauty I didn’t see but also one that I did. It filled me with a sense of wonder. Something to be grateful for, to embrace during a season that has been filled with stress and angst and indecision. The sunlight on the isle of Oak Park made me happy, put me in a festive mood, and allowed me to celebrate this 21st of December in emerald isle style.

Miss trees: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 1, 2012 6:51 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here. It’s another wet morning in Oak Park and wet rainy mornings always make me kind of lazy. I just want to stay in the den a little longer. This morning when I finally left, Mrs. Squirrel told me to be extra careful. The trees are a little more slick than when it’s dry and I could slide and fall off. She was right. I was flying down the side wall, scampering along at my usual pace. I could see Hey Lorin in the kitchen having some coffee. I got to the corner of the wall and jumped for the tree like usual. I almost didn’t make it. I went to grab the branch and my paws started to slide off. I finally caught one of the leaves and was able to pull myself up. Phew. That was a close one. I could have gone splat on the ground.

Once I got myself composed, I decided to just hole up for a little bit. I scrunched down in the space where the branch meets the tree. It wasn’t as wet and seemed wider. Plus it’s a really great space to watch what’s going on, and here’s what I saw. A tree, going in the house.

Naturally I was sort of curious. Trees aren’t usually in the house, but this one went right in through the garage. I left my safe, dry spot, carefully made my way back to the wall and ran to the back of the house. I went down one tree, snuck across the wet grass, and spun my way back up another tree. This one has the lowest branches in the yard and I could look inside. I found myself a dry spot under some big leaves, and hunkered down to watch.

Hey Lorin put the tree into a green thing on the floor. Then she got down on the floor, too, and had these screw things she was turning. The red-furred one they call Cooper was sitting on the rug, just watching. I could tell he didn’t quite understand why there was a tree in the house. His head was cocked to one side and his ears were really far forward. You could just see him trying to understand. He must not have ever had a tree in the other houses where he lived before he lived here with Hey Kevin and Hey Lorin.

Hey Lorin was talking to him, telling him what was going on. I couldn’t hear everything because the windows were closed because it’s kind of cold and rainy but I’m pretty sure she said it’s a miss tree. Hmmmm. I figured that was probably about right. A tree in the house would sure be missed by the outside trees. It’s also a miss because it doesn’t really belong in the house. I don’t think it’s a girl tree, though, so it’s not that kind of miss. Can trees be boys or girls? I’ll have to look that one up.

Anyway, the red-furred one kept sitting on the rug and watching and Hey Lorin started putting these long strings of things on the miss tree, wrapping them around. They were very bright, like a million tiny white lights. They were actually really pretty and I was pretty intrigued by it all. Then I heard a crash from the front of the house so I had to go investigate that.

Back down along the wall, but this time, I didn’t just jump onto the tree. I went down the front of the wall, and then up the tree and to the roof over the house so I could see what was happening. Hey Kevin was out there, on a ladder, hanging more tiny white lights on the front of the house. He wasn’t very happy about it either.

When he saw me, he nodded. Hey Squire.

Hey Kevin. What are you doing?

Hanging miss lights. That’s what he said.

I looked around the neighborhood and some of the other houses seemed to have these pretty little lights on their houses, too. I saw a car go by with a tree on top and I wondered if it was a miss tree, too, and if it was going in somebody else’s house. I didn’t recognize the car but I don’t know all the cars in the neighborhood, just the ones that try to run over me.

Miss lights and miss trees. Seems like there is an awful lot of miss happening around here. It’s kind of pretty. Maybe I’ll even get a miss tree for the den. Mrs. Squirrel would like that.

A puddle stomping fun-fest

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 30, 2012 8:54 PM

It rained today, a lovely drizzle that occasionally turned to showers. I’m told the difference between rain and showers is that showers aren’t steady whereas rain is. To me, if it’s precipitating, it’s raining. I used to run in the rain. In fact, when I would see the sky painted gray and the air would feel heavy with moisture, I was practically giddy with anticipation. Once the rain would start to fall, I’d lace up my Asics, pull on the appropriate gear and off I’d go, iPod strapped to my arm, buds in my ears. I always ran further and faster when it was raining because it kept me cooler.

Walking in the rain has a similar effect. We walked this morning with Cooper, going about a mile and a half, to Starbucks and back. It was the perfect morning for something hot. We trudged back through the drizzle while Cooper maneuvered himself under every bush, the heavier with water, the more he liked them. We walked down sidewalks, across parking lots, down a double flight of stairs with Kevin and I carefully avoiding puddles and Cooper splashing merrily through them. When we returned, Kevin and I felt great and Cooper smelled like a wet dog for an hour or two. He couldn’t have been a happier boy unless maybe it was snow.

At lunch, the two two-legged members of the family went for another walk. It started to absolutely pour but we kept on, going up the Rockfield hill and down the Bowfield one, across Lindero and up behind the Fresh ‘n Easy through the alley behind. Birds were flying low, landing on the wet pavement. A little black and grey bird waded through water pulsing from the gutter, careening and cascading down the road, rippling as when a stone breaks a still plane of water. The bird hopped a bit, pecked at the water, then flew off to find a dry branch.

Again, we avoided puddles. But I found myself looking at them longingly. I wanted to run and jump and stomp in them, send water skyward in even bigger bursts of drops than those that previously fell. I don’t know what stopped me. Maybe it was not wanting wet, soggy feet. Maybe it was that a lot of the puddles worth stomping in were near the gutter spouts and thus the water was pretty dirty. Maybe because it wasn’t raining hard enough to make the great foot-stomping joy of something like the puddles in Singing in the Rain.

I’m a moderate fan of the film but a huge fan of the title song scene and the athletic Gene Kelly stomping with wild, glorious, joyful abandon through puddles on the backlot of the old MGM studios in Culver City. To film this famous scene, holes were dug out of the pavement to make puddles exactly where Kelly’s choreography wanted them. A complex system of pipes was engineered to make the downpour perfect. There are conflicting reports as to whether milk was mixed with the water to make the rain more visible. Regardless, the area was darkened with tarps and lit from behind to make the rain sparkle and to keep the fake shop windows from having reflections. Just as they were about to begin shooting, the water wouldn’t run through the pipes because it was after 2 in the afternoon, which was when the people of adjacent Beverly Hills ran their yard sprinklers. They filmed a bit later instead.

Kelly was also running a fever of about 103º. The soaking he endured caused his wool suit to shrink even while he was filming. I think if you watch, you can see that the sleeves on the jacket are a little too short. The scene is ten shots, and Kelly said that he created the right mood by invoking the “thought of the fun children have splashing about in rain puddles and I decided to become a kid again during the number.”

And there it is. The puddle stomping fun is silly and gleeful, and mesmerizing. It makes you remember what it means to be a kid, to be unencumbered by protocol, to not give a damn about wet feet – in fact, to prefer them. The soggier and squishier, the better.  

I thought of that scene today, one of films’ greatest as far I’m concerned. It personifies, with song and dance, the very essence of living it out loud. 

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live out loud

Oh what a knight: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 10, 2012 8:30 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here and can I just say that I’m pretty worn out? Trying to get this new knight-wanna-be in any kind of shape to even begin his extensive training is tiring. I can’t even get the guy to look at me. He’s so obsessed with what’s down that he has yet to look up. It’s frustrating. I don’t remember this with the actual knight, the real knight, the big dog.

Let me tell you what’s happening. It shouldn’t take long, because it’s essentially nothing. Oh, he’s cute and all. I actually kind of like his red fur cause it’s a little like mine and I’ve always been proud of the reddishness of my fur coat. My mother, Madam Squirrel, use to tell me that she thought we must be descended from the great Irish squirrels of the 16th century. Back then, when the Celts ruled on the isle so green, squirrels were their constant companions. Sometimes they were also dinner. I never liked that part. But that’s why we squires immigrated to this country. According to legend, or at least my mom, it happened quite by accident when Old Squire Squirrel the first and his soon-to-be missus Old Squire Squirrel were squirreling around near the water. Some horses rode up and Old Squire decided they needed to take cover “lest they get et.”

That’s old-time Squire speak for somebody was going to be on the menu.

So Old Squire and his soon-to-be missus jumped onto some big wooden thing to hide. It was a boat. Next thing they knew they were someplace else where they decided to stay. Eventually there was Old Squire the 82nd and he and his Mrs. Old Squire caught a ride to the Americas, their kids traveled west in somebody’s wagon and that’s how we got here.

The Squire ancestors were all assigned to a knight. It’s in our blood. That’s how I got to be the knight’s squire. He was a good knight, too. Very stoic, very powerful. Toward the end, all he had to do was use his eyes and whoever he was looking at started to quiver. Of course, that’s really all he could use, his eyes. He was kind of old but still strong and he was still a great knight. I did good by him, I think. I was always there to tell him when some other element was flying in, like birds or that big red hawk that sometimes drops by. When he comes, I high-tail it for my den in a big time hurry. I don’t have any desire to be his dinner – to be ‘et’ – any more than the original Old Squire wanted to be. I always told the Knight “in coming!” before I scurried though.

Some knights might have said I was cowardly, but the knight, my knight, he understood. I mean, I’m not that big and I’d fit pretty easily into that hawk’s beak.

Now there is the knight-to-be. He is still a little wet behind the ears. A nutbag, whatever that is. I hear Hey Lorin calling him that all the time, like “Hey, nutbag, what are you doing out there?” She says it really nice and sweet, too, like she thinks he’s cute. I think he’s a little bit crazy, running around outside. He even chases that never-will-be-a-knight-no-way-no-how Kobe along the side of the house. They can’t even see each other but they run back and forth and bark up a storm, raising such a ruckus, it’s like to bring Old Squire back from squirrel heaven.

Me, this morning. See my red fur?

Hey Kevin was out on the patio this morning, huddled up in his bathrobe while the red knight-to-be ran around the yard looking for a tree. Never looked up once. Hey Kevin did though.

“Hey Squire,” he said. I could see his breath. It was really cold this morning. I like it when it’s cold. I like how my fur gets thicker. It makes me look bigger and tougher.

“Hey Kevin. How’s he doing?”

“He’s good. But he’s definitely a nutbag.”

I asked what a nutbag was since I’d heard them say that and it didn’t sound like they were actually talking about nuts in a bag. Personally, I like nuts. So I was thinking that I might like a nutbag.

After Kevin described what he meant – that he was just fun and crazy and had a lot of energy – I nodded.  Those are all good traits in a knight-to-be. Then they went inside and I watched the red knight swoosh his tail and trot in to see Hey Lorin. I nodded again. I do that a lot when I’m thinking. I think I’m going to like this nutbag.

OK. Gotta squirrel. The missus is calling. I think she’s making something with nuts for breakfast. Like I said, I like nuts. I like nutbags.

The signs are there: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 10, 2012 8:05 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here. I know I usually do my guest post on Saturdays but I was busy this Saturday at a squirrelage sale. Mrs. Squirrel and me always see people here in the neighborhood having a sale right outside their garage doors so we thought we’d have our sale right outside the den. Hey Kevin and Hey Lorin have had a bunch of garage sales. They always start at like 6 or 6:30 and I’m always kind of amazed that there are actually people out shopping that early. But there are, and there are a bunch of them. I think it must be the signs.

There are all kinds of signs around here lately. This weekend there were the usual Garage Sale signs. They’re usually hand written and taped to the light posts with that gray tape they use to tape ducks. I’ve never really understood why anybody needs to tape ducks but whatever. As long as they don’t start taping squirrels, I’m good.

The thing with Garage Sale signs is that they get people to come and that’s good because when people come to a sale they buy stuff. But then a lot of people forget to take their signs down and it just makes the neighborhood look kind of trashy. When Hey Justin lived here, he went out one morning when they were having a garage sale and put up signs at like 5:30. He was still a pup then; he maybe even took the Knight with him. Pretty soon there were people pulling up in front of the house and Hey Kevin and Hey Lorin were still in bed. I heard Hey Justin come into their room and say “Hey dad! There are people already here for the garage sale!” After that, and after Hey Kevin and Hey Lorin explained that “we always get the stuff out of the garage and into the driveway before we put up signs,” Hey Justin was better about making sure that he was prepared. He always liked garage sales.

The other signs I’ve seen around are Lemonade Stand signs. Little pups will sit on the corner in front of a little table while other pups yell at all the cars going by to stop and buy something to drink. I watched them from the tree the other day. They were really cute and they did get some people to stop and have some standing lemons. I don’t like lemons. They make my mouth get all squirrely.

Then there are Estate Sale signs. I can’t quite figure those out since they’re here in the same place as the regular garage sales and I always thought estates were like really big. These houses are nice but they’re not really big. Of course, they’re bigger than my den but I don’t need much space since it’s just the missus and me, and besides, I’m a squirrel.

Some houses have For Sale signs so I guess they’re selling the whole house and not just the garage. Hey Kevin and Hey Lorin have a sign in their front yard now that’s blue and has this circle rainbow kind of thing on it. They put it up last week after they were watching something called a convention. I guess when you watch a convention, you have to have a sign that says so. I didn’t watch the convention so I don’t have to put up a sign. That’s good. I don’t really have any room anyway.

There are Street signs and No Parking signs and don’t-even-think-about-driving-fast-because-there-are-kids-here signs. I like the signs that are actually written on the road in really big white letters. Sometimes they say there’s a “hump ahead” and sometimes they say there’s a “bump ahead.” I don’t know what the difference is since they’re both like little mounds of road and they’re both ahead instead of behind. I think they’re both really just a bump in the road, and bumps in the road can slow you down. If you go over them too fast, the bottom of the car gets all scraped. It’s sort of like life, I guess. If you slow down for the bump, you can get over it easy. If you go too fast, the bump makes it harder.

I think I’ll stick with the sign Mrs. Squirrel and I put up. It just says “the nut house.” I think nuts are really good and should be shared, kind of like life. So I guess that makes it a sign of life. Because if the signs are there, you have to show up. Right? 

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live out loud

The running man

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 1, 2012 9:13 PM

When I lived in Calabasas, after I got rid of husband number one, I used to see a man running. Every day, he would be pounding the pavement, always in black shorts, his long brown hair pulled into a ponytail that hung to the middle of his back. On cooler days, he wore a t-shirt, but when it was warm, he wore only his shorts and running shoes. And he would run and run and run. He had headphones and he carried a walk-man. Then he started running with a black doberman, on a leash that attached around his waist. The dog was huge and the man was small. The dog seemed hardly to have to work at all to keep up. But the man was dedicated. Rain or shine, he was there, running down Las Virgenes Road, up Agoura Road, and from there, who knew? My world, in those days, didn't go north of Las Virgenes Road; there was no reason.

When Kevin and I got together and he lived with me in my townhouse for a year or so, we'd both see the running man. Then my world did expand and we ventured north of Las Virgenes, eventually buying a house off of Lindero Canyon Road, in Oak Park, about 10 miles from the townhouse. Damned if I still didn't see the running man and his dog running down Lindero. Again, it seemed to be on a near daily basis. I had no idea where he started from; I had no idea how far he went. But as I saw him on both roads and they were ten miles apart, I figured he was doing close to 20 miles if not more nearly every day.

I wondered who had that kind of time.

I wondered who had that kind of stamina.

I wondered if he had a job and if he did, what it was since he didn't seem to be running at the same time each day, just every day, and never at night.

I marveled at his dedication. And that his knees were still holding up.

I was impressed with his stride. He didn't have the incredible lightness of being that most marathon runners possess, as their feet barely seem to touch the pavement as they bound and propel themselves forward at an unheard of pace of 4 minutes a mile. But his stride was easy and steady, never seeming to vary in form. Just a constant movement. He was wiry and thin; that helped.

After a while, I only saw him and wondered about his dog. I was never crazy about the dog running with him anyway. I always try not to be too judgmental of people though I confess that I am not always successful. Still, I don't like to see people running with their dogs. Dogs are not meant to jog. They are not marathon runners. It is not good for them. I feel the same way about people who ride their bikes and have their dog running alongside, tethered to a leash. I always want to say something. I don't. I wondered if maybe the dog had simply gotten too old and could no longer run the ridiculous distances that his master did. I hoped that the dog was just waiting at home, napping on the cool tile, waiting for his dad to finish his daily routine.

I have to admit that I was also a bit envious of the running man. I used to be a runner. I began when I was about 14, a freshman in high school, and I ran through my 20s and 30s and into my early 40s. I was never a huge distance runner, only doing 3 to 5 miles at a time, but I loved it. I always felt my best when I was running; I looked my best, too. I'm tall and relatively thin. Running kept me thin. My jeans always fit better when I ran. My metabolism seemed to function at a higher rate when I ran. But then, a couple of years ago, my right hip started to bother me, and I thought that perhaps the running was starting to wear down some parts so I decided it was probably best to find another form of exercise. I stopped running and started walking. I still feel pretty good, but not as good as when I would lace up my Aiscs, stick my iPod ear buds in my ears, crank up the tunes and go out and run, toes pushing off the pavement, pushing forward, cresting hills and coasting down again, always pushing myself a little bit further, a little bit faster.

Running is aerobic, meaning that it helps the body develop a lot of resistance to physical work. It increases overall energy and improves cardiovascular, muscular and lung capacity. As for metabolism, the rate increases exponentially so runners can eat more without worrying about gaining more. No wonder I loved running so much. And because of the increased energy and metabolic rate, the body stays leaner, more toned and in better shape. Running is considered one of the best exercises to burn fat fast hence the reason most runners tend toward the lean and mean side. It also builds bone, in addition to muscle, helps you think faster, stay sharper, see better (people who run 35 miles a week are 54 percent less likely to suffer age-related vision loss), live longer (19 percent less likely to die prematurely) and sneeze less (18 percent less likely to develop upper respiratory tract infections). For that reason alone I should reconsider.

I hadn't seen the running man in a while, probably because I'm not often out on Lindero during the day. I had forgotten about him completely. But this morning, as Kevin and I were walking, on Lindero, he was there, too, running in the opposite direction, running past us. Still running in just a pair of black shorts, sans shirt, still with his dark hair in a ponytail hanging down to the middle of his back. Still rail thin; not an ounce of fat on him.  He didn't have a dog. He no longer had a walkman. Instead, he had an iPod strapped to his arm and ear buds in his ears. Other than that, he looked exactly the same as when I used to see him on Las Virgenes 15 years ago.

Running, evidently, also keeps you young. Maybe I should re-think the hip thing, lace up the Aiscs, strap my iPod to my arm, slip the ear buds in and crank up some Rob Thomas This is how a heart breaks, probably the best running song ever, and hit the pavement again. Then again, doing so might change my tune to "This is how a hip breaks."

I'll just stick to watching the running man while the husband unit and I stay the walking couple. Happy, healthy and living it out loud.

Crossing over into the downside

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, July 18, 2012 11:28 PM

I have a philosophy. I know; I seem to have a lot of philosophies. I think some of them are even almost if not entirely valid. Plus, in my selfish way, I figure that it's my blog and I'll philosophize if I want to, which is, incidentally, a derivative of it being my party and crying, updated for the 21st century.

Where was I? Oh. Philosophizing. Again. Here's my latest: at noon on Wednesday, the week officially flips toward the weekend. In the morning, it's still early in the week, the weekend is still a very long way off. But miraculously it crosses over and the weekend starts to come into view. I've dubbed this "crossing over into the downside." Clever, don't you think?

This amazing thought was actually verbalized today on our walk, under a very strange sky, dirty cotton clouds stretched thin, the sunlight trying desperately to pierce through. It was humid but the breeze was cool. It felt almost as if it might rain but it didn't and it won't. Still, the threat was nice. We were on our way up one of the nasty little hills here in the 'hood, one we affectionately call lil' EBH (for energizer bunny hill because it keeps going and going and going). Kevin was being uncharacteristically quiet, which didn't keep me from rambling on about my morning, my phone call with my sister, what was coming up for the afternoon. I was getting mostly grunts and one-word responses.

"Did you leave your conversationality on the floor of the salon last night?" I asked. He finally got a haircut yesterday. His hair was so long he was starting to need barrettes and banana clips.


"Are you having a bad day?"


Hmmmm. "What time is it?"

"1 o'clock." He speaks!

"It's official, then. We've crossed over into the downside." Coincidentally we were also crossing over the crest of the hill and were finally starting on the downside of lil’ EBH. The analogy was not lost. My husband looked at me out of the corner of his eye. We used to call it the side-eye when Maguire would do it. I knew that meant "what are you talking about because if it's this hill, you're kind of stating the obvious." We have a nice short-hand, my husband and I.

"We're more than half way through the week."

Philosophy is defined as love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral discipline. It's also defined as the investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods. In other words I see therefore I know what I see when I see it so there.

Midway through the week is Wednesday at noon. Once one has gotten past 12, the slide toward the weekend begins. The downside. In this case downside is a good thing. It represents the upside of working hard and steady and strong. It elevates what was groundward; it gives rise to even greater optimism and cause for celebration. I could almost see us skipping down lil’ EBH, hand in hand, shouting “the weekend is coming! the weekend is coming!”

Luckily, we don’t skip. Which is a whole other philosophical discussion to have at another time in another post. For now, I leave you with a humid, cloudy Wednesday afternoon and two of the OPs most intrepid residents, sliding – but definitely not skipping – toward Fritini.

Grunt, sayeth the husband-unit. But then, just for a minute, I’m pretty sure I saw him skip.

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