In which I discover how to live with the doom and gloom and gray

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 10, 2012 10:12 PM

It’s a gray day here. The sky is filled with heavy clouds, white on top and darkening beneath. A soft, cool wind blows. The temperature has hovered around 70º since late morning though it feels colder. Strange to think that just a week ago we were complaining of triple digits. I’ve been in sweatpants, a long sleeve denim shirt and slippers all day and I’ve been almost chilly. The gloominess of the day is pervasive and as much as I love the change in the weather, I have to admit it has also added to my overall doom and gloom mood, a mood I’ve been fighting for several days now.

This type of mood is not one I’m used to. I have bad days like everyone. I have anxiety, I get worried. But I err on the side of happy. Maybe it’s the weather; maybe it’s the news (which, curiously, is what led me to start this blog to begin with). Whatever it is, I decided to consult one of my favorite gloomologists from childhood and through this day: Eeyore

“Good morning, Eeyore,” said Pooh.
“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning, which I doubt,” said he.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said, Pooh, rubbing his nose.
“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

Eeyore, as you may know, is an old gray donkey stuffed with sawdust. He was introduced in the A. A. Milne book Winnie-The-Pooh, published on October 14, 1926, making his first appearance in chapter four. He stood “by himself in a thistly corner of the forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things.” I always liked that about Eeyore.

Eeyore is 18 inches tall and 27 inches long, with a tail, attached with a pin, that sports a light pink bow. He lives in the southeast corner of the 100 Acre Wood where he eats mostly thistles. He loves pots and red balloons, and his friend Pooh and Pooh’s friend Piglet. Made on May 10, 1871, Eeyore loves birthday cake but does not like being bounced, nor does he like swimming. He loses his tail a lot and his house keeps falling down. He’s very smart and loves to pass along his insight but in a decidedly gloomy way.

One of my favorite bits of wisdom by my favorite gloomer is this:
“This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.”

Because of Eeyore’s wisdom, I have been able to laugh through most days because no matter how bad things get, no matter the doom and gloom of the day’s news, no matter the dreariness of the weather or the polls, no matter the bags under my eyes or the tired in my soul, no matter my lack of humor or celebratory spirit, I always feel better when I visit my friend at Eeyore’s Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad.

You see, Eeyore has very little expectations. And his biggest problem is his tail falling off. All of his friends – Pooh, Piglet, and Christopher Robin – work to reattach it, even though Owl once mistook it for being a bell-pull and hung it outside his house. If my biggest problem was my tail falling off, I would probably be just fine with that.

Eeyore seeing the world as gray helps me to see the world as less gray. I look outside and the gathering clouds have parted. The air is still cool, but the doom and gloom is dissipating.

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing?”
“Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

Everything might be OK after all. 

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live out loud

The importance of toys

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 23, 2012 1:21 AM

I am a grown woman and I love toys. I have them all over my house and I’m proud of that. In my office, directly in front of me when I sit at my desk working is a Samantha Stevens/Bewitched doll complete with hat and broom. On top of the shelf is an antique croquet game. In the corner is an enormous stuffed bear from FAO Schwartz in New York. I have blocks, a Winnie the Pooh, a Piglet, an Eeyore and a Tigger. In the bookshelf are some stuffed animals; atop my bookshelf is a Scarlett O’Hara Barbie doll and a Scully and Mulder Barbie and Ken doll set from the X-Files. They carefully guard a Tasmanian devil and an old metal lunchbox like what I carried when I was in school. On the floor is an antique doll crib with two antique dolls, one a Madame Alexander, another a Heinrich Handwerk, both bisque. Which is not to be confused with Bisquik, another blog post entirely.

Walk down the stairs and at the bottom is a black, limited edition Road Hog tricycle that I bought for Kevin for Christmas several years ago. It has motorcycle aspirations, complete with a tiny saddlebag under the saddle. On top rides a stuffed dog in a leather Harley-Davidson jacket with matching sunglasses. He looks bad-ass. Miniature motorcycles, mostly metal, are on the stairs; miniature bicycles on the fireplace mantle. On the entertainment center is a Marshall Field Tonka truck from 1955 as well as a Smith-Miller Bank of America armored truck, complete with lock.

The real toy collection begins in the bedroom, though. Like typical kids, it’s where we keep most of our stuff so that it doesn’t get underfoot, nobody slips on it, and it doesn’t clutter the living room. A shelf across the sliding glass door houses some of our best toys. Actually, Kevin’s toys. There are countless trucks mostly from the late 1950s/early 1960s including a full set of orange Tonka road crew vehicles. The set even includes road signs. I bought that for him for his birthday some years ago. On the shelf up high is a menagerie of stuff: more trucks, a Sno-Cone maker, an army tank that actually shoots something, an original erector set, a set of Lincoln logs, a metal Snow-Flake sled and a fully-functional (as long as the battery terminals aren’t corroded) King Ding robot complete with his brain, a smaller robot that rides up and down inside King Ding on an elevator.

Pebbles, a replacement of my favorite doll from when I was a child, sits next to the flat screen TV. Kevin found her somewhere on the east coast and gave her to me when we got married. I always loved that doll; she may well have been the only one I ever did love. I suspect because she first belonged to my older cousin Kim and I idolized Kim. When Kim gave her to me, it was like she had given me a million dollars. I’m sure she didn’t think that; she simply no longer had any use for the raggedy piece of plastic with a stuffed body and bad hair.

I’m not sure when or why we got so into toys, and truth be told, we’re getting a little tired of some of them. Thank dog for ebay. Still, we have some pieces that are true collectors items and worth a good deal of money. We’ll keep many of the best trucks, including Marshall Field, Bank of America and all of the trucks above the sliding glass door. They’re all in mint condition. I’ll keep Pebbles for sure. The trike stays, too.

I think toys somehow makes us feel invincible again, they remind us of a simpler time when we had no responsibilities and the biggest question of the day was “when do I have to be home for dinner?” They allow us to use our imaginations, construct worlds that don’t exist except for that day, as we play and move around our trucks and our dolls and our stuffed animals. It’s a way to create, and even to problem solve. There’s also something kind of cool about having exceptionally old, working and pristine toys in your house as an adult when there are no children around. They make people smile.

Toys and games have been discovered at the sites of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations. These discoveries include dolls and animals, whistles shaped like birds and even carts with wheels. Egyptian children had dolls that sported wigs and even had movable limbs. Most of the world’s earliest toys were made from rocks, sticks and clay. Most were made by parents for their children or by the children themselves. There was care given; each toy was more personal than the mass-produced toys of today.

But the reason for being is the same: to develop the mind and the imagination. That’s something adults could use more of, especially during especially trying times. Toys allow us to escape and to play even if it’s just in our minds, even if it’s just for pretend.

Also in the bedroom, in the corner, is Maguire’s bed. I don’t think he slept in it once during his 15 plus years. Instead, it became his toy “box,” holding all of his toys and they were plentiful. Each day, he would trot out anywhere from two to six, and after he was done playing and chewing, he’d leave them wherever he grew bored. He never learned the fine art of cleaning up after himself. Those toys are still in his bed. They allow us to imagine that he’s still with us, to pretend just for a minute that we can still hear the squeak of Pig or Moo or Hedge as he bites down for a chew.

Tonight I’m celebrating toys, celebrating the pretend. Living it out loud.

The art of pez

by Lorin Michel Thursday, September 8, 2011 11:13 PM

I have not been to Austria and The sound of Music doesn’t count, plus I don’t like that movie. I suspect I would like the country, not for the towering, floating Alps, or the lederhosen, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. No. I would like it for the pez. I realized this today as I was staring at a pez dispenser on my desk, one with a Winnie-the-pooh head. I knew if I bent back the head, it would be a sort of smile, albeit an empty one.

Pez is an Austrian invention that names both the hard little rectangle candies and the mechanical pocket dispensers like my Pooh. Each dispenser holds 12 pieces of candy, pushed out through a head as it is bent back at an impossible angle. Over three billion of these sugary little bricks of candy are eaten by people like me every year, and that’s just in the US.

Pez, which is actually a sort of acronym standing for Pfeffeminz, the German word for peppermint and coincidentally the first flavor, was invented in 1927 by Eduard Haas III. His tiny mints were created using family owned baking powers and originally stored in small tins until Oscar Uxa invented a dispenser that was similar in size to a cigarette lighter. The “lighter” dispensed adult breath mints instead. It was a hit until World War I when money became a problem.

Then, in 1945, the Pez Box Regular was introduced and in 1952, Haas brought his product to the US. In 1955, the heads of Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse were placed on dispensers and Pez as we know it today was born. Other flavors were introduced. Cherry, grape and orange, more like red, purple and, well, orange. They have since grown to include chocolate, cola, lemon, raspberry, strawberry and sour flavors like watermelon, green apple and pineapple. Over 1500 dispensers have been created and some of the earlier Mickey Mouse heads are worth over $7000.

There have been historical Pez dispensers for Betsy Ross, Daniel Boone and Paul Revere; motorcycle chopper dispensers and NASCAR dispensers. Elvis has been dispensed as has Dorothy, the Tin Man and other Wizard of Oz characters. Star Trek, Snow White and her dwarfs, Star Wars, Warner Brothers, the alien from Alien, football team pez, Hello Kitty, the Simpsons, Toy Story and even Prince William and Princess Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have all been immortalized on the top of a thin piece of plastic.

Personally, I have had Santa pez and Woodstock pez (from Peanuts fame), even a Hello Kitty pez. Of course the earlier mentioned Pooh pez is still on my desk though he no longer dispenses candy. Often times, I’ll get some of the pez candy and simply eat it without putting it into the dispenser. It tastes the same and it’s easier.

But when I was young, I loved getting the little block of candies and pulling the dispenser long, exposing its hollow insides. If I was really careful, I could line up the candies in the package with the inside tube, depositing them perfectly so that the inside tube, fully loaded, slid back into the dispenser. It was a challenge, and a sweet adventure.

Then I got older and just peeling open the package and eating the candies still gave me the satisfaction of pez without the precision. I preferred and still prefer orange, as I do In so many things. Orange juice, orange popsicles, oranges, orange lifesavers.

I’ve never had the peppermint type. I like my mints in the form of cheap candies wrapped in cellophane, like the kind you get in a restaurant. Or gum. And I love my Pooh pez dispenser, long empty on my desk shelf. It’s worth it for the smiling face alone.

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live out loud

The Tigger effect

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 22, 2011 9:53 PM

He made his first appearance in October of 1928 when he announced himself with a roar, or actually a Worraworraworraworraworra, and the world would never be the same. I speak, of course, of that wonderful bouncy, bouncy thing whose top is made out of rubber, whose bottom is made out of springs.

Tigger. Friend of Pooh, lover of everything except honey, haycorns and thistles, largely because thistles have bees and bees sting. Coincidentally, bees are also involved in honey, though I think that’s where the similarity ends. Turns out that Tiggers only like extract of malt. For some reason, Tigger was always one of my favorite Pooh characters. He was one of a kind, gregarious, fun-loving, cheerful, a little dim to be sure, but also a stuffed toy who simply celebrated life.  When I was first introduced to The House at Pooh Corner, and Tigger in Chapter 2, I was hooked. I remain so.

Pooh and Tigger, as drawn by Ernest Shepard

Perhaps it has something to do with his bounce. It’s joyous, contagious. Perhaps his love of malt extract, something that Kanga gave Roo (see TH@PC, Chapter 2) as his strengthening medicine. Fascinating, and also understandable. During the first years of the 20th century, British children of the working-class were often given malt to help make up for a deficiency in vitamins and minerals. They were also given cod liver oil so I’m not sure how strengthening it actually was.

I do know that malt extract is also use to brew beer, its sweet taste taking the edge off of what can be slightly bitter. It primarily occurs with barley and is eventually cooked to a high enough temperature that it forms something called wort, which is the sugary liquid syrup that will ultimately be fermented to create beer. Makes me wonder why a mother gave it to her baby. It also makes me wonder why Roo’s name is Roo when a baby kangaroo is called joey. I guess it has something to do with a Kangajoey not making as much sense.

Perhaps my love of all things Tigger also influenced a crush I had in college on a frat guy from SAE. His name was Brian but everyone called him Tigger largely because he bounced a bit when he walked and when he entered the room, he was the center of attention. I don’t remember his last name. I do remember that when we finally had an opportunity to get together, he was a jerk. I could have let him tarnish the Tigger mantra, but I refused. I left that one particular frat party with my dignity and my love of the original Tigger in tact.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve continued my love affair with the orange and black furry creature created by A. A. Milne. I think now it’s because of something much more profound and yet simple: his ability to keep bouncing through life regardless of what circumstance presents itself.

“Excuse me a moment, but there’s something climbing up your table,” and with one loud Worraworraworraworraworra he jumped at the end of the tablecloth, pulled it to the ground, wrapped himself up in it three times, rolled to the other end of the room, and, after a terrible struggle, got his head into the daylight again, and said cheerfully: “Have I won?”

“That’s my tablecloth,” said Pooh, as he began to unwind Tigger.

“I wondered what it was,” said Tigger.

“It goes on the table and you put things on it.”

“Then why did it try to bite me when I wasn’t looking?”

“I don’t think it did,” said Pooh.

“It tried,” said Tigger, “but I was too quick for it.”

From The House at Pooh Corner, Chapter 2

That’s the Tigger effect. Being too quick for the things that are trying to get you, always being ready, always being positive about what’s happening regardless of what that may be. I think it’s how I’ve long lived my life. I know it’s how I live it now. It’s how I plan to remain in the future.

Tigger, on a mailbox, today in the OP

And to think, I owe it all to a stuffed-animal character from a beloved children’s book. 

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live out loud

Pooh and Piglet

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 3, 2011 10:52 PM

He was born in 1926, short, stubby and of non-descript coloring. Some thought him to be light brown, almost blonde while others thought him to be much darker, perhaps because he was named after a Canadian black bear cub – Winnie – that lived at the London Zoo. His last name came from a gracious and majestic swan – Pooh – met on holiday. He gained notoriety in countless books and eventually film, and because he was well-loved if not more well-known than his namesakes.

His best friend, diminutive in size and stature, was smart, articulate, and helped his friend through numerous bad times and tight spots. He was occasionally referred to as Henry Pootel, but was more commonly known as Piglet, best friend to Winnie-the-Pooh, the sometimes light, sometimes dark bear.

These two were inseparable in the world of Alan Alexander Milne, the British author who created Pooh, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, and Tigger, all friends of Christopher Robin. I bring this up for several reasons. I’m a big Pooh and Piglet fan, best friends. And I’m a big fan of friends.

There is something incredibly special about friendship. I’ve blogged about this before. Friends choose each other; we find each other on our own. We are not thrust together by blood, we are brought together by circumstance. Friendship is entirely circumstantial, and that’s what makes it so special.

I don’t have a lot of friends, and frankly don’t want a lot. I like my small little circle. We have chosen each other.

I talked to my friend Pam today, for three and a half hours. We were inseparable during our freshman year of high school, and then my family moved away. We grew apart. We reconnected briefly when I got married the first time, but then drifted again. About a year and a half ago, I found her on Facebook and we reconnected after twenty years. It’s been fabulous.

She got me through some scrapes then, back when we were young, and now we’re still re-celebrating our re-friendship and our reconnection, twenty years later. Pooh and Piglet. Not sure which is which or what is what. Not sure it’s relevant.

What’s relevant is the friendship, the joy, the love.

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh,” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw, “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

I’m sure of you, my friend. I’m so glad we’ve returned to each other.


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friendly celebrations

In which I write about nothing at all

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 3, 2011 10:49 PM

I'm a big fan of Winnie the Pooh. I freely admit it. In fact, I'm proud of it. The genius of A.A. Milne was that he could take the simplest philosophy, the simplest ideal of life and make it profound.

"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."

"If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear."

"The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking."

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.


"Think it over, think it under."

Oh, and "Bother."

Bother to celebrate Pooh and Piglet and something today.

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live out loud

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