Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 14, 2015 8:15 PM

We make plans and dog laughs, or in my case, bites.

I am by nature a planner. I suspect it’s because I am also a control freak. I need to know what’s going to happen at any given time. I don’t do well with spontaneity, though I try. Last Sunday, I was spontaneous when I said to Kevin let’s go get a newspaper and we ended up at Bookman’s instead, shopping for used books. I had a great time; one of the best in a while. I don’t remember when I was spontaneous before that. I’ve always wished I could be a little more carefree, but it’s just not in my nature and I’ve also come to accept that. Some of us foot loose, others have our feet encased.

Whenever we set off on a motorcycle ride, I need to know where we’re going. I have no trouble going, I have no trouble with detours. But I need to know the ultimate destination. The plan.

When we were big into bicycling, we’d often start off on a ride and I’d ask the inevitable question: where are we going? Kevin used to get very irritated. Can’t you just enjoy the ride? I informed him that I needed to know because depending on the distance, I needed to plan. 10 miles meant I could ride more aggressively. 30 miles meant that I needed to ride smarter and conserve energy. He still got irritated with me but seemed to better understand my control issues.

The plan for today was for Riley and I to make our debut at a Petsmart Meet ‘n Greet with the rescue group from whence he came. They do a lot of these things evidently and I’ve been wanting to get more involved. Several weeks ago there was a pool party and we were planning to go but they thought it might be too much for our poor little guy since he was still getting acclimated, and there were supposed to be 53 dogs there. (!) It made sense, so I changed the plans.

Yesterday Mr. Riley Boo got a bath so he’d look sparkly for his entrance. This morning I brushed him before we got in the car. Drove to Petsmart which is about 15 minutes or so away. Just before the turn into the parking lot, an idiot three cars ahead slammed on his brakes which made everyone else slam on theirs, including me. Now we were on a surface street so we were only going about 40ish, but a nearly 6000 pound SUV does not stop on a proverbial dime (a saying I’ve never quite understood). I got it stopped but not before dumping Riley who had been lying down, stretched out on his rug in the back seat, down onto the floor. He sat there looking at me as if I was trying to kill him.

This should have been a clue that perhaps my plan for the day might not be a good one.

We walked into Petsmart right at 11, but none of the other peeps were there. I asked someone where the rescue group was and was told they usually set up outside. It was already 93º. Not a good idea. I walked back outside, with my dog straining and pulling at the leash. Do you know how many good things there are to play with and eat at Petsmart? Do you see how many people to sniff?

Outside, I found the rescue group, just arriving. They also agreed it was too hot so we trekked back inside. There were only three of us, and two dogs. One of the ladies, a woman named Sue, had brought her six year old rescue Travis. He barked the entire time. I’m not exaggerating. The entire time. Riley simply whined and squirmed and sniffed Travis’ butt.

We got the table set up, Riley got a “donation dog” vest to wear and people started coming up. The object of the game is to talk to people about the rescue group and to get donations. It’s a non-profit and any monies can help keep the place running and the lights on. My friend Jenny arrived and we started to chat. She put $10 into Riley’s vest. He was official.

A woman and her daughter stopped by. We told her about the group and about Riley. They gave him $5. Another lady stopped by. A woman with another dog came by. Another with two little boys. They were petting Riley and he was wagging his tail. They left and came back. I was talking to Jenny. The next thing I know Riley is nipping and biting one of the little boys.

I was mortified. The little boy was more scared than hurt. The mother was very understanding, much more so than I might have been. The manager of Petsmart asked us to leave (just me and Riley). In a very nice way, and even put a dollar in Riley’s vest. I wanted to dig a hole and pull the sand up over my head.

We were there a grand total of 35 minutes. Jenny said “let’s go get a Starbucks,” and I whined “please!”

The moral of the story: Rescue dogs are unpredictable, Riley needs therapy (I’ve already called a trainer) and sometimes things don’t go the way you planned. But at least there is Starbucks.

The sisterhood of the PSL

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 28, 2014 10:27 PM

This is a very special time of year, a time to rejoice, to celebrate. Sisters from the east coast and the wild wild West are collectively shouting a big hurrah and hazzah and any other exclamation thought of as we welcome the return of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks.

My sister texted me two days ago along with a selfie of she and Shawn having their first of 2014. My sister, like me, is a pumpkin spice latte fiend. They had just gone through the drive thru and the pic was taken from inside my sister’s Grand Cherokee. We don’t have as many Starbucks drive-thrus here as they do in the east. I suspect it has something to do with Starbucks moving into areas like New Hampshire, where my sister lives, after developing their prominence in other cities. And in the North East, the weather is bad in the winter. No one wants to get out of their cars when it’s 10º.

The text started: “we got our first pumpkin spice lattes of the season!!” Two exclamation points followed by a smiley, a pumpkin and a cup of coffee, all emoticons.  I texted back that I was jealous. We went back and forth several times while I remembered the spicy sweet cinnamon taste they were actually savoring. It was Shawn’s first. She’s 15 now. I showed Kevin the picture of my sister and our niece and he smiled. “She’s really not a kid anymore, is she?”

My niece is a beautiful young woman. Long blonde hair and blue eyes, straight white teeth. Tall and thin, if not bordering on willowy. She’s a sophomore in high school. It’s time to join the sisterhood.

Kevin went out yesterday to meet Mike, at the house. I gave him a Starbucks gift card that still had some money on it, though I had no idea how much. I asked him to bring home a pumpkin spice latte. I told my sister I had sent him out with strict instructions not to return empty handed. When he called at 1 pm and asked if I still wanted the latte, I told him no. It was too late. I don’t drink coffee after noon. He came home and I adjusted to the idea that my first PSL of the season would be delayed.

Shawn joins the sisterhood

My sister texted me this morning and asked how it was. The sisterhood is a powerful thing. We must communicate about our lust for the pumpkin and the spice. I told her that I didn’t get one. She immediately texted back that he should be fired. Immediately. I explained that I had been the one to tell him I didn’t need a latte. Still.

He came into my office shortly thereafter and asked if I wanted a latte. He was going to walk over and pick one up for me. He knows of my obsession. He knows of the sisterhood. I hadn’t even told him of the diss by my sister. He left with the card, and came back a short time later. I immediately texted my sister that I too was in possession of the first PSL of the season. She texted back that she wanted proof. I put the Grande cup on the floor in front of Cooper, got down in front of him, and took a picture. Kevin was there with me. I told him about what my sister said, about the diss. He said that he was going to have to deal with this on his own.

He texted. She texted back. All was playfully combative and ultimately forgiven.

The sisterhood of the pumpkin spice latte has a long and not-at-all storied history. It has something to do with loving pumpkin from a very early age, with discovering Starbucks and it’s amazing blend that’s only offered in the fall. Fall, evidently, gets earlier and earlier every year since it’s still August and last time I looked August, before Labor Day, was still considered summer. I’m not complaining, just explaining.

We are the sisterhood, Khris and I. For a long time it was just the two of us. Oh, several friends on the periphery occasionally partake, but it’s not the same. There’s a dedication, a camaraderie, a clinical diagnosis when it comes with being part of the sisterhood. There is a bloodline. It is internally felt and externally expressed in the form of a Starbucks cup, hoisted proudly.

And now there are three. Welcome Shawn to the sisterhood of the PSL. You’re in spicy company, my girl. Always worth celebrating.

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live out loud

8 o'clock

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 8, 2014 10:09 PM

The other day the husband unit and I were in the local Safeway as we so often are. It’s close and has nearly everything we need save for fresh fish. We often stop on our way back from a walk, and one of the items that is perpetually on the list is coffee. Once upon a time, we went to Costco, and bought the big 5-pound bags of whole bean coffee. We’d grind it ourselves, which is a pain, but it’s fresh and smells great. Now Costco is too far away and it’s just easier to buy a small bag of ground coffee in the store.

We drink a lot of coffee in this house. We start with a small pot that we start before we leave to walk Cooper. Then around 10 o’clock or so, we make a bigger pot. We don’t always empty the carafe, but it’s there should we need it. On cold, rainy days – which have been few and far between this season – we tend to drink more just because it’s hot and it always tastes so good.

We’re not married to any particular brand though we usually like a heavier roast, like French. We like our coffee grounds to be nearly black. It’s also good for the teeth. Often we buy the Safeway brand. It’s good and it’s not terribly expensive. When we can get a bag for $5.99 we buy two because we always like to make sure we have coffee in the pantry. Running out of coffee in this house would be paramount to running out of water or air. It makes Kevin and Lorin function.

On Thursday, we were in Safeway and perusing the coffee aisle. I snagged a bag of French Roast. Then stopped. There on the top shelf was a little blast from my long ago past. 8 ‘o’clock coffee. Still in a red bag, only now available ground. Who knows? Maybe way back it was available ground, too. I just remember the bags of whole bean at the A & P.

When I was young, I didn’t drink coffee. Most kids don’t. I started in high school when I worked at a pharmacy in Milford. It was a part time job and I often opened on Sunday mornings. The owner, John Boulter, a pharmacist, usually worked on Sunday’s too. There were usually three of us. John in the back filling prescriptions, another working the counter in the back, and one working the counter in the front. The counter in the front was more for toiletry items, cigarettes and candy. We also had some gift items like cheap perfume that were in a case at the front of the store.

On those Sunday’s, John would take our “orders” then go next door to the River Café where he’d get coffees to go. He’d come back with a cardboard tray, with the coffees in big Styrofoam cups. I always got mine with cream and sugar, and I loved it. I don’t know if it was because the Café made exceptional coffee or because it was early on a Sunday morning. Maybe it was because it made me feel more adult. Maybe it was because it tasted like hot coffee ice cream. That’s when I developed my love of hot coffee in the morning.

But I developed my love of the smell years earlier, with 8 o’clock coffee, freshly ground at the grocery store. My mother must have bought this brand; why else would I remember it? Still, I only remember her buying Chock Full Of Nuts, but somewhere, sometime in my youth, there was 8 o’clock coffee.

The coffee was one of the signature products of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, nicknamed A & P, when the first stores opened in 1859. It got its name in 1919 when, after conducting a survey, A & P discovered that 8 am and 8 pm were the most popular times for drinking coffee. A legend was born that year, made from 100% Arabica beans.

I bought the bag at Safeway and today we had it for the first time. It was good. Nothing special. I don’t know what I expected, and I wasn’t at all disappointed. It was simply coffee. I think it was the nostalgia factor that meant more than the taste. Celebrating a cup of hot 8 o’clock coffee, with cream no sugar, on a beautiful Saturday morning in the desert. It’s what’s catapulting me into living it out loud today. 

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It's pumpkin spice latte season

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 9, 2013 9:56 PM

Every year I wait for it, the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. It used to make an appearance some time in October, but because of its popularity, it now arrives the day after Labor Day. This year, the espresso, steamed milk, pumpkin flavored sauce and fall spices, made its debut on September 3. I had my first yesterday. I can still taste it.

I am a sucker for all things pumpkin except for pumpkins. I suspect it’s actually the fall spices that include cinnamon, because I’m also a sucker for cinnamon. Put the two together, make it a hot beverage, and preferably coffee, and I’m in love.

My sister had texted me last week that she was getting her first of the season. There are many things Khris and I share, and our love of the PSL is high on the list. She said that she wished I lived closer so that she could buy me one and we could celebrate the advent of fall together. I wish I lived closer, too, though I suspect if I did, we’d be at Starbucks all the time during this greatest of seasons.

Yesterday, we got up early, hooked the dog to his leash, grabbed the last of our gift cards and headed off for a walk to the local Starbucks. Since yesterday was also the first official Sunday of football season, and since football season is also the kick-off of fall, it seemed appropriate. Pumpkin Spice Latte to go on a hot still-summer day and then watch a little pre-game show on Fox. A perfect morning. Kevin stayed outside with Cooper while I went inside, stood in line, and giddily told the girl behind the counter than I wanted a grande Pumpkin Spice Latte. Hot or cold, she asked. I smiled. It was heading toward 100º, again. Not really fall weather by a long shot. And I didn’t care. Hot, I said. I also ordered a grande cappuccino for the husband unit, and water for the puppy unit. Neither of them share my love of the pumpkin spice.

It was ten years ago that the PS Latte made its debut. It was one of 20 seasonal finalists and the initial reaction to the pumpkin concept was not good. It was out-shown and out-voted by chocolate caramel and cinnamon spice. But Peter Dukes, the espresso brand manager for Starbucks, held fast. As the team leader who developed the drink, he knew there was potential.

To create the perfect concoction of spices to help them achieve the right vibe as well as the right flavor, they decked out their lab with Thanksgiving flair even though it was spring. They wore sweaters and stared at Thanksgiving decorations. They brought in pumpkin pies and nibbled and tasted, chasing the pie with espresso. According to Dukes, they even poured espresso directly onto a pie.

When the drink debuted to the public in 2003 it was an instant hit. There were 7,225 Starbucks stores at the time. Now there are nearly 19,000 serving the hot drink with the special sauce made from cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, steamed milk, espresso, whipped cream and a pumpkin-spice topping. There is no actual pumpkin in a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Last year, there was a bit of coffee panic across the land when Starbucks ran low on the sauce. People were horrified when they couldn’t get their favorite drink because of sporadic delivery problems. Baristas offered a slice of pumpkin loaf instead but it just wasn’t the same. This year, no such shortage is anticipated. Thank dog.

Maybe it’s because it signifies fall, when the air gets crisp and the leaves change. It’s the time before Halloween and then Thanksgiving, when there is much joy and congregating. It’s the signal that the holidays are approaching and I love the holidays. It’s before everything turns and starts all over again. I love the coziness of it, the smell of it; the taste of it. Maybe it’s that it reminds me of home.

And that’s a season always worth celebrating.

So I’m new here but I think I’m going to like it

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 27, 2012 8:13 PM

I’m Cooper. Yesterday I was Andy and a long time before that I was Lucky, but I guess I was un-Lucky so I got a new name and then I was lucky enough to get another new name. I just got here yesterday. These people say they’re my new mom and dad, and they brought me home in this really big red car that I almost couldn’t get into but I did, with a little help from my new dad. I was a little afraid – I mean, who are these people? But they seemed nice and they gave me a new collar and it already had two pieces of really blingy bling on it. And I have my new name to go with my new collar and since everybody keeps calling me Cooper I guess I’m Cooper.

I don’t really understand this computer thing. I don’t really understand a lot right now, but I think I might like it here. It sure would be nice to have a forever home. I’ve been in a lot of places, especially lately, and I’m only like five years old.


Cooper Michel

Here’s my story: I lived with a family for a while and I thought they really liked me. I liked them. I thought I was lucky because that was my name. But then they had a baby and they didn’t want me anymore, so they gave me to this lady named Laura who takes dogs that nobody wants. I was really sad. I didn’t know if maybe I did something wrong but I don’t think I did. After that I was in at least three other houses with three other families but I was really just visiting, not really living with them. I was waiting until somebody found me and I could go home.

I got my picture taken and I was on a website! I think it was called Petfinders. But still, nobody wanted me. I thought it was a pretty good picture. I looked cute that day in my golden reddish fur. I think I’m a golden retriever and border collie, whatever that means. I’m just a boy. And then, finally, somebody did want me. I met these two people, the ones called mom and dad, a couple of days ago, and then last night they came with their big red car and my fancy new collar and my new name and I went home.

It’s a pretty nice home, too. I have my own water and food bowl, and a special place to sleep in the same room as my new mom and dad. I have cookies, too. Lots and lots of cookies. I get one when I sit, especially if I sit when they use my name. I sit a lot. I think I like being Cooper. Cooper equals cookies. That’s good.

Today I got up early and after my new dad took me outside, I came racing in the house and immediately went to my new mom’s side of the bed. I put my head on the bed next to her and wagged my tail really hard. I want her to like me. She petted me and rubbed me and scratched behind my ears and said “good morning, Cooper.” There wasn’t a cookie though. Probably because I didn’t sit.


Outside after a bath

I also have to remember that cookies are only in the kitchen.

Then we went for a really long walk and even stopped at a place called Starbucks so my new mom and my new dad could get something called coffee. I had some water. It was good. I met some new people and then we walked some more. When we got back home – HOME! – I had some more water and then I took a nap on the kitchen floor. I like the kitchen. It always smells good there and also, too, cookies.

I’m still a little weirded out. When I said sleep, I really was just laying quietly. I’m kind of afraid to close my eyes. What if when I open them, my new mom and dad aren’t here? What if I have to move again? I don’t want to move again. I think I like it here. I even have a new hedgehog toy.

I like my new mom and dad, too. They’re nice and they’re trying really hard to make me feel good about being here. I wish they wouldn’t try so hard. I feel pretty good already even if I’m a little afraid. But if they want me to sit when they say my name, I will. Cause then I get a cookie.

And don’t tell them that I already know, ‘k? I’m Cooper and I think I’m going to like it. 

The origin of the coffee klatch

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 16, 2012 10:08 PM

This morning, as we turned the corner from the Fresh & Easy parking lot and started down through the shaded cavern of the Kanan Road sidewalk, underneath the still leafy canopy, past the high hedges on the right and the open vista to the left, where we noticed something quite frightening. A group of at least 10 women, dressed in expensive sweats and equally expensive running/walking shoes, with their professionally coiffed hair tucked beautifully under an appropriately blingy baseball cap, only one pushing a stroller with a toddler, all walking up the other side of the street. They had a purpose. They were motivated. They were women on a mission, one that we immediately decided meant getting to Starbucks.

They were a coffee klatch in the making.

I’ve always thought that the phrase coffee klatch was weird. For the longest time, I actually thought it was ‘coffee clutch,’ which actually makes more sense in that you can clutch your coffee as you drink. Sometimes you really clutch it, especially if you’re tired or cold. When I found out that it was actually ‘klatch’ instead of ‘clutch,’ I thought… “huh?”

Klatch is from the German word “klatsch” meaning gossip. It was created either in 1953 or in the late 1800s, depending on who you believe, as an onomatopoeic word. It sounds like it says. It was originally Kaffeeklatsch. It means a casual gathering of people, usually with refreshments. Evidently there can be all manner of klatches, from sewing to poker. Ultimately, then, a klatch is about socializing.

Starbucks basically re-invented coffee as the ultimate social-gathering beverage – klatch – when they opened their first store in Seattle on March 30, 1971. Suddenly it was hip and cool for the younger generation – read: those in high school and college – to gather in a very hip and cool location with equally hip and cool music playing and sip coffee. Of course, the coffee served is rarely just coffee (though in fairness to Starbucks, they do actually serve “just coffee” usually in a medium roast, a dark roast and even a decaffeinated roast). Starbucks coffee tends to be of the grande half-caff, double shot, low fat, no whip, hold the pickles variety. I personally like a grande low-fat latte most of the time; I wait all year for Pumpkin Spice latte to re-debut.

The original coffee klatches started in 1683 in Europe. One of the most famous was Caffe Florian. The Middle East soon followed, introducing coffee houses that became hotbeds of artistic and political discussion, for men only of course. They were actually called penny universities because the fee to enter was one cent, for all the coffee one could consume.

Coffee is grown and produced in fifty countries. Forty percent of Columbia’s national economy comes from coffee exports. The coffee industry employs more than 25 million people. Americans consume more than 30 percent of the world’s roasted coffee, or about 2.5 billion pounds annually. Much of that is consumed in the world’s largest coffeehouse company, Starbucks, with 19,972 stores in 60 countries.

Which brings us back to our klatching ladies, walking up the hill to the Starbucks at Lindero Canyon and Kanan Road, on a beautiful, warm October day. We watched them move up the hill and disappear around the curve, all the while thinking… how nice to be able to get together with a group of people that you like, and sit and sip a Venti Soy Latte, triple shot. With whip. And a muffin. For the baby.

We continued on our walk, envious, and when we got home, had our own miniature klatch, just the two of us, in the kitchen, pouring from the Cuisinart. With a shot of half and half.

Then I clutched my coffee and my laptop and Kevin clutched his coffee and his notebooks, and off we went to work. 

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Meet the Mr.

by Lorin Michel Monday, January 30, 2012 9:03 PM

Every morning I see him, staring at me, waiting, red-faced. I wonder sometimes what he would do if I didn’t venture into the kitchen after a not-long-enough rest, rub the sleep from my eyes and open the blinds. But he doesn’t really have to worry because in the morning I’m all about the routine, and the routine means standing there at the counter. We stare at each other for a little while. I think sometimes he will do something unexpected, like challenge me, but ever the gentleman, he always waits for me to make the first move. It usually isn’t long before I do just that. I reach out and grab his love handle, remove the pot from its heated cradle and go about making the morning coffee.

Meet one of my closest morning friends, my Mr. Coffee. Oh, there have been others along the way. At one point there was a pretty white Braun that was positively angelic, and the dark, brooding Krups that could always be counted on to brew up a pot or two. For a while there we even had a stainless steel Betty Crocker machine. It was very industrial and looked fabulous on the counter. But she ended up being very weak, couldn’t hold her water at all. Most mornings there was more on the counter than there was in the pot.

The original Mr. Coffee from 1972. Note the wood panel.

We flirted with an espresso machine for a while but it was too much work with the steam thing and it didn’t brew a large enough quantity so it was a constant rush to make another tiny little pot. Plus it was noisy, too noisy for early in the morning.

When I was young and had my first coffee maker, it was a Mr. Coffee. I think my dad gave it to me in college when I had my first apartment. Or maybe it was when I was in the dorm. I don’t remember. It was white plastic that was forever stained with caffeine, and had a flat sort of carafe. It served me well. So when Betty blew it, the mister and I decided to go back to the original and still the best.

It all started with a man named Vincent Marotta Sr. who had an idea for an automatic drip coffeemaker. It was the early 1970s, and he and his business partner Samuel Glazer recruited two former Westinghouse engineers. Westinghouse was the king of stove-top percolators for a good part of the industrial 20th century. The engineers, Edmund Abel and Edwin Schulze – I lovingly refer to them as the Eds – created the first Mr. Coffee for Sunbeam Products in 1972. It used gravity to pull water through a heating section and was allowed to drip freely into a waiting carafe. Mr. Coffee was a true revolution, selling more than one million makers by April of 1974. It probably helped that baseball great Joe DiMaggio was the spokesman.

Mr. Coffee produced a more uniform brewing temperature than any percolator which tended to give coffee a bitter and burned flavor. It soon began using thermosyphons to carry water up from a reservoir and drip it through the waiting dry coffee grounds. Over the years, the company went through a number of upgrades and incarnations, was sold to different companies and even almost went bankrupt.

Then they introduced their new Optimal Brew, a small flash boiling chamber that heats water to approximately 200º F before delivering it to the ground coffee beans. This allows for 10 cups of coffee to be brewed in less than eight minutes. That may be my favorite part.

Our Mr. Coffee is deep red and black. It’s tall and looks very nice in its perfect place on the counter, not too far from the sink for water and the disposal for the coffee grounds. I could set the timer at night so that it brews before we get up but I never remember unless we’re traveling. Besides, I like the routine. Clean the carafe, empty the grounds, clean the filter, pour in fresh cool water, scoop out freshly ground French roast, close the lid and press start.

Other than my husband, this mister may be one of the most important in my daily life. Like my husband, I plan to keep him around for quite some time. I think it’s the love handle. On the Mr., not the mister.

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live out loud | The cooking of joy

Attitude is everything

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 29, 2011 10:08 PM

The beginning of the week can bring the dread. If you work a regular Monday thru Friday, or the equivalent, the night before going back to work, a pall can descend. But it doesn’t have to. Starting the week with a positive attitude can help create a good week. Honest.

I know I’ve always tried to have a good attitude, to look on the proverbial bright side of life. I believe it helps to create a good atmosphere as I go forward into the world, even if the world is only just the next few days. I try to smile. If something goes wrong, I try not to immediately get angry but to look at the situation and figure out how I can make it better. Sometimes I’m actually successful. If there’s no coffee to grind in the morning because we haven’t been to CostCo, I don’t get frustrated. I either pull out one of my Starbucks gift cards (thanks, Pam) or I break into the e-coffee, an emergency stash we keep in the pantry. I know I’ll have coffee; it may just take a little longer than usual. I may even get a muffin if I go to Starbucks. See? Having a positive attitude feeds me, in more ways than one.

And it’s not just me. According to a study by the American Psychosomatic Society, women who are optimistic about life live longer and are generally healthier. The findings came from a clinical trial of more than 97,000 healthy women ages 50 to 74. Of those, optimistic women had a 14 percent lower risk of death from any cause after eight years as compared to those who were more pessimistic.

Harvard University even has a how-to-be-happy course, one of the school’s most popular classes where the first lesson is to embrace failures and frustrations. Psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar explains it like this: “When you give yourself permission to be human, you are more likely to open yourself up to positive emotions.”

Not to be left out, Carnegie Mellon researchers have discovered that positive people come down with fewer cold and flus, even after being exposed to the virus. Happy people are also less likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes and pain from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

And happiness researcher Martin Seligman who started a positive psychology master’s program at the University of Pittsburgh believes that a positive outlook and attitude come from inside. He’s even been so kind as to identify some steps that can help increase happiness. Things like setting realist goals: enjoying your work, what you like to do outside of work and the people you love. Check. Gratitude. Thanking someone can make you feel better. Check. Focusing on the good. Seligman suggests writing down three things each day that went well. Sort of check.

I don’t do three things but I do one and I write it down here. I embrace that one thing and live it out loud, shout it through my keyboard and celebrate something good, something fun, something funny, something beautiful. When I started, I wondered if I could find something every day. I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s not difficult at all.

Because attitude is everything.

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In search of the perfect yawn

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 14, 2011 8:38 PM

My husband wakes up yawning almost every day. I wake up stretching. The dog does both. We’re quite the threesome as we stumble around in the morning in search of coffee. Maguire yawns nearly all the time. Every time he wakes up, he yawns, stretching his jaws open so wide it seems we can see all the way through to his tail. Sometimes he doesn’t even bother to lift his head up from where he lays, prone on the carpet or the hardwood. He just opens wide and snaps shut.

Kevin’s yawns aren’t nearly as cavernous though they make his eyes water and always elicit a resounding harrumph after his jaws close. I only tend to yawn when I’m excruciatingly tired and it’s often accompanied by a stretch. A good old fashioned, nearly dislocate my shoulders as I reach for the moon kind of stretch. It feels so good to stretch like that; it makes me understand completely why animals do it all the time. A stretch with muscles stretched tight until it’s close to painful; release.

I always thought that yawns happened because we’re tired, but actually that’s just a theory which postulates that our bodies are taking in less oxygen because our breathing has slowed and yawning supposedly helps us bring more oxygen in while moving carbon dioxide out. Another theory states that yawning stretches the lungs and the lung tissue, keeping them lubricated and healthy. It also flexes muscles and joints, increases heart rate slightly and helps the yawner feel more awake. Unless it’s Maguire.

Maybe yawning is protective, keeping the lungs from collapsing. Maybe it controls brain temperature. In fact, in 2007, University of Albany researchers proposed that yawning may help keep the brain cool, important because our brains operate best when kept in a narrow temperature range. Other researchers have studied yawning for its contagious effect. Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance humanist, priest and theologian wrote that “one man’s yawning makes another yawn.” He made this observation in 1508. The French even created a proverb for it: Un bon bâilleur en fait bâillier deux. Roughly translated it means “one good gaper makes two others gape.”

So why does Kevin yawning make me stretch and sometimes eventually yawn? Supposedly because of the mirror neurons in my frontal cortex. These neurons are the driving force behind imitation and as we all know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But lest you doubt my research, even the Mythbusters on The Discovery Channel tested the concept and came away with the conclusion that yawning is, indeed, contagious.

Of course there are certain cultures that frown upon the yawn. Ancient Greeks and Mayans believed that yawning was a sign of a person’s soul trying to escape the body. Others believed that yawning was from the devil himself. Some thought it carried plague. Even the father of our country, George Washington believed that yawning, especially in public, was at the very least a faux pas, saying: “If you Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkerchief or Hand before your face and turn aside.”

A good yawn along with a good stretch, known incidentally as pandiculation, is one of the greatest sensual pleasures we mammals have. It’s why dogs, cats, lions, tigers and bears, humans and chimpanzees yawn at any given time. It’s exquisitely easy, can be done almost anywhere without fear of censure, it makes others yawn right along with you, and it just feels great. That alone makes it nearly perfect and something to celebrate.

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Living in the OP

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 11, 2011 8:39 PM

Once upon a time there was a ranch nestled in the red rock canyons of Lindero and Kanan Road, in Ventura County. For a time, cattle and horse roamed the four plus miles of land, and the only people present were the ranch hands, cowboys, and ranch owners Jim and Marian Jordan, the stars of the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly. The sun would stream lazily across the hills during the hot summer months, buffered by a strong ocean breeze. Birds soared, mountain lions stalked and the encroaching city beckoned. This was the area known then, and now, as Oak Park. It’s the area we call home.

After the land was gobbled up bit by bit by the Metropolitan Development Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, homes began to sprout up next to the cows. By 1967, the county officials, concerned about the isolation of our community, proposed a land swap with neighboring Los Angeles Country, but LA said no. By 1975, the Municipal Advisory Council, lovingly known as MAC, said fine: We’ll make this a destination location by keeping the population low, the land plentiful and not over developed, and by having our very own school system. It worked. The OP has less than 15,000 residents, five schools and lots of pretty, undeveloped hillsides for hiking and biking.

We moved out here for the schools. At one point, and during Justin’s freshman year, the high school was one of the top 100 in the country. It isn’t anymore and while I don’t think Justin had anything to do with that, I can’t be sure. We have a grocery store, several fabulous restaurants, a Starbucks and another coffee house, a Bank of America, a vet, a dog-grooming place and a gym. Basically everything we could ever need; we never have to leave.

And sometimes we don’t. Since both Kevin and I have our own businesses, we often work all week, fielding client calls and firing off countless emails without having to venture into big bad LA with its big bad LA traffic. We can walk to the store and any restaurant. It’s boringly safe, though we did have a murder this year, a freak occurrence that most people still can’t believe. We have a pond and ducks, coyotes and rattlesnakes, lots of dogs and a dwindling number of children. When people move out here, they often come when their children are small, like we did. They end up liking it, like we did, and they don’t leave even after their children grow up and venture out into the world.

We didn’t. We were originally on the five-year plan. We’ve been here for fourteen years (this August).

Today we took a walk down toward the high school and then up and through the parking lot. We haven’t been there in a while; no reason now that Justin is in college. Not much has changed. The campus is still open and surrounded by hills and trees. The buildings were all closed up for the weekend, and in the front of the Great Lawn, the vast expanse of greenery that stretches before the administration building, the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market had set up shop. A local one-man band strummed his guitar, played harmonica and sang old Dire Straits songs.

Then the man, he steps right up to the microphone; And says at last just as the time bell rings; “Goodnight, now it’s time to go home;” And he makes it fast with one more thing.

We stopped for some water, picked up some trash blowing across campus, and looked out onto our little town as the gloom from the beach just ten miles away began to peel back revealing the beautiful red rocks of the foothills and the red tile roofs of the houses.

We turned and started back toward home, celebrating just another Saturday in the OP.

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