A brief history of December 3

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 3, 2012 8:51 PM

Today is the third day of the twelfth month of the year. It is also a Monday, a bit cloudy and cool, and still early enough in December to consider the approaching holiday manageable in terms of the time that remains. I think as long as we’re in single digits, we can do that, even though we shouldn’t. On December 10, panic sets in.

But let’s not talk about that. Let’s stay nestled here with December 3, a lovely day and one I’m celebrating for a number of reasons. For instance, in 1621 on this date, Galileo invented the telescope, a modern miracle that allows mere humans to see to the stars and beyond, to realize how close we are to the universe, and how far away, to understand how big we are and how insignificant. It puts things in perspective.

Then in 1775, the US flag was raised for the first time, aboard the Alfred. 1818 saw Illinois being recognized as the 21st state of the US and in 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected the seventh president. Shortly thereafter, in 1833, Oberlin College opened. It was the first truly co-educational college in the country, offering a higher education to both men and women. In 1834, the first US dental society was organized. Smile and say cheese.

The first neon lights debuted in the city of lights in 1910 at the Paris Auto Show, and the first successful color movie debuted in New York City in 1922. It was called Toll of the Sea, and in it, a young woman named Lotus Flower finds an unconscious man floating in the China seas. The man’s name is Allen Carver and the two soon fall in love. Carver wants to marry her and take her to the United States but his friends discourage him, and so he returns home alone. Years later, Carver returns with a wife and discovers that Lotus Flower has a young son. She would like Carver to raise him in America, so Carver and his wife take the boy, leave and Lotus Flower wades into the sea behind them and drowns. It’s not very cheery, but is to be celebrated for the era of Technicolor that it ushered in.

In 1930 the Rodgers and Hart musical Evergreen premiered in London and Otto Ender formed the Austrian government. I don’t believe there is any correlation other than coincidence. Luckily, the following year, Alka Seltzer was invented, just in case.

1947 saw the premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire in New York City in the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It starred Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden and it played for just over two years. When the last line was uttered by Rudy Bond’s Steve (Stanley and Stella’s landlord), “This game is seven-card stud,” the audience erupted in cheers. They cheered for thirty minutes.

Paul Harvey started his national radio broadcast and the Cleveland Browns, the last NFL team with a no-pass game, beat Philadelphia by the score of 13 – 7. Both happened in 1950.

Television was broadcast for the first time in Hawaii in 1952, LA’s KTVE started broadcasting as an NBC station in 1955, Wilt Chamberlain played his first collegiate basketball game in 1956, and in 1961 the Beatles met their future manage Brian Epstein. In 1964, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer aired for the first time. The first human heart transplant was performed by Dr. Christian Barnard in 1967, John Lennon was offered the role of Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar in 1969 (he turned it down) and the US performed a nuclear test at the Nevada test site in 1970.

By 1979, Christies, the great auction house, was auctioning a thimble for $18,400, Cleveland recorded a record temperature of 77º in 1982 and in 1984, the world’s oldest groom, Harry Stevens, 103, married a woman twenty years his junior, Thelma Lucas, in Wisconsin.

So many other wonderful things happened on this day, this December 3, in history, but one of the most important was that our best buddy Roy was born.

Today, I’m celebrating him, his artistry, his humor, his love of life and love of wife; his generosity, his spirit, his perseverance. Happy Birthday, dear, dear friend. We’ll celebrate in style next weekend!

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Baking cookies

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 2, 2012 7:23 PM

I love to cook. Most nights, I can be found in the kitchen, sautéing, stirring, mixing, creating. Sometimes I know exactly what I’m going to do; other times I wander in and take inventory of what I have and based on that, what I can make with it. Some of my most interesting – if not best – meals have been created from what I happened to find in the pantry, something I’d forgotten in the freezer and a touch of wine. Wine makes everything taste better.

I rarely do the same thing when it comes to baking, largely because I don’t bake. I used to. When I was a kid, I loved to bake, often times with my mother, who was and remains a great baker. I think she’s a better baker than cook, probably because she prefers sweets to just about anything. Food is something she has to eat; baked goods are what she prefers to eat. She was always making cookies and cakes. For our birthdays each year, when we were young, she would make character cakes. A puppy or rabbit, an elf or Santa for her two Christmas babies (my sister and I both have late December birthdays); others I’m sure I don’t remember. She could make a wonderful blueberry coffee cake from scratch. The holidays were filled with nutcups, sugar cookies with half vanilla, half chocolate frosting, thumbprints filled with a Hershey kiss; pizzelles rolled when still warm to form a cone to be filled with some kind of horribly sweet and wonderful cream and then dipped in crushed walnuts.

I was more of a traditionalist when I would bake. I was a master at the chocolate chip cookie. I even did a speech on it when I was in 7th or 8th grade. We had to do a demonstration speech, and I chose to show how to make cookies. I brought all of the ingredients with me to school and stored them in my locker. For my speech, I walked the class through the adding of each ingredient, the stirring, and then provided them with both a finished cookie (made the night before) as well as the chance to eat some of the dough, if they desired. Chocolate chip cookie dough is almost better than chocolate chip cookies. There’s a reason it’s an ice cream flavor after all.

I’m pretty sure I got an A on my speech. The rest of the day, whenever I could, I made it back to my locker to sneak more dough, which I had stored on the top shelf. By the end of the day, I was fairly sick.

Once I went to college and then got married the first time, I didn’t do much baking. When Kevin and I got married, he did some baking. His mother, a woman I never really knew and only met once when she was already deep in the delusions of Alzheimer’s, was known for her pies. It was a common refrain to hear at get togethers: “Virginia’s here and she brought pie!” No one else’s contributions mattered.

But today for some unknown reason, I got an itch to bake. I did what I usually do when I cook. I went to the pantry as well as the spice cabinet and studied what I had. There were no chocolate chips so those were out. Then, at the top of the spice cupboard, on the right side of the shelf, I spotted molasses. Another of my favorite cookies when I was a kid was molasses. Perfect! As long as I had everything else. Flour – check. Baking soda – check. Brown sugar – ummmmm. Was it too hard? Brown sugar when not used for long periods of time turns to a rock. So brown sugar …. Check! I had cinnamon, ginger. No cloves but I could substitute nutmeg. An egg – check. Crisco – check (only because Kevin had just bought a tub at Thanksgiving in order for him to make pie). I measured, I blended, I mixed. Then I had to put the dough into the refrigerator for a bit.

I worried that I might lose my motivation. If one is not inclined to bake in the first place, having to wait to bake can make one lose interest. But I managed to keep my heart in it.

After a couple of hours, I removed the dough, rolled bits into nice little balls, dipped one side in granulated sugar, placed them on an ungreased cookie sheet, baked each batch for about 12 minutes, and presto. I had cookies.

The house smelled of cinnamon and molasses, warm and gooey but with a crispness. It smelled a little like Christmas. Maybe that’s why I was in the mood to bake. After putting up the tree yesterday and hanging some lights on the front of the house, I was feeling the spirit of the season.

There’s something so cozy about baking, so comforting. So fattening. Still, with the fragrance of baked molasses still filling the air, I’m feeling good. It might be another 20 years before I bake another batch, but today, I’m celebrating the sugary joy of fresh baked cookies. 

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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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Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:16 PM

For a good part of my adult life, I have lived with only males. When Justin lived here and Maguire was still alive, I was surrounded completely by testosterone. I was also surrounded a bit by snoring. Justin snored very softly, it was more like heavy breathing. Kevin snored and still does but mostly when he’s just exhausted; otherwise he sleeps quietly. Maguire sighed heavily every once in a while.

Enter Cooper. He snores. A lot. He also talks in his sleep. He growls and semi-barks. When he lays down, he expels air loudly with a harrumph.

Last night when I wasn’t sleeping – an occasional malady that is quite frustrating especially when I’m so tired because of the holidays and the shopping and the dog and the work and the and the and the – I was listening to the sounds of my two men, the husband next to me and the dog in the kennel in the corner of the room. Kevin’s sounds were small and crisp; Cooper’s were low and guttural. Since it’s the holidays, naturally I couldn’t help but think of the Christmas song Let it Snow.

Oh the music inside at nightfall
Is noisy and not right for all
So since I’m waiting for sleep ‘n more
Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore

It doesn’t show signs of rebounding
And I’ve brought some sheep for counting
The lights are off which I adore
Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore

When we finally said goodnight
How I loved snuggling down to sleep
But if shuteye refuses, alright
Cause tonight I’ve got my sheep

The night is finally slowing
And my boys have sounds they’re sewing
But as long as I can I’ll implore
Let it snore, let it snore, let it snore 

I’ve been told that I, myself, don’t snore. I puff. According to my husband. But I come from a long line of snorers on my father’s side. My grandmother used to fall asleep on her couch at night while watching the news. She’d be bundled up in her bathrobe, her face all slathered with Ponds cold cream, bobbi pins holding her sideburn curls in place, and her head will gradually drift back, her mouth would fall open and she would exhale the loudest snort. She rarely woke herself up. My father was much the same, though his snorts were enough to crack the drywall and peel the paint. My mother used to sleep on the couch in the living room when it got too bad. When my dad came to visit me right after the dissolution of my first marriage, I had a small townhouse with two bedrooms upstairs. I gave him my room and I took the smaller guest room. I, too, ended up downstairs on the couch. I could hear him through the two closed doors and down the hall. 

He used to tell my mother that it never kept him awake. He’d say it in jest as she would snarl at him. Interestingly, when I puff, it wakes me up almost every time. Kevin sometimes snorts and it wakes him up; mostly I just give a gentle nudge, he says “what?” and I say “you’re snoring, roll over.” I haven’t yet figured out how to get Cooper to shhuuush. He doesn’t tend to snore for long, which is good. I suspect I’ll just have to whisper his name. Dogs are notoriously light sleepers.

Until then I’ll just let him snore, let him snore, let him snore. And when I’m good and tired, and the sheep are all counted, I’ll finally drift off with a puff.

Life is good living it out loud with my guys, even when it’s supposed to be quiet. 

The first time I heard jazz

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 25, 2012 8:35 PM

On December 9, 1965, an animated TV special aired for the first time, on the CBS network. I was watching it though I’m fairly sure I don’t remember it, not from that date, as I was only 4. It was to my great fortune – and the fortune of others all over the country – that it continued (and continues) to air every year following. It was A Charlie Brown Christmas, the first time the Peanuts comic strip had been given over to animation, and it has become a perennial favorite. I’ve always loved it but not because of its message of peace on earth or goodwill to men. While that’s lovely, and it is delivered in a most appropriate fashion by Linus and his blanket, what I love most is the music. I can’t help but wonder if my consistent and continuing love of jazz had something to do with the first time I saw and listened to that wondrous 25 minutes.

The music was composed by Vince Guaraldi, a jazz pianist who first recorded with the Latin jazz musician Cal Tjader in 1953. By 1959, he was out on his own. He was a well-respected musician, but not necessarily a big name until he released Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. A song called Samba de Orpheus, featured on the French film Black Orpheus, was released as a single and was largely ignored. But then disc jockeys started playing the B-side, Cast Your Fate to the Wind, and Guaraldi officially arrived. When Lee Mendelson, the producer of A Charlie Brown Christmas, heard the song while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, he knew what he wanted for its musical accompaniment. Mendelson contacted the jazz columnist for the city’s newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, who put him in touch with Guaraldi. Guaraldi took the gig, performed a version of what would become “Linus and Lucy” over the phone to Mendelson just two weeks later, and recorded the full soundtrack with the Vince Guaraldi Trio over the course of the next couple of months.

I remember being entranced by O Tannenbaum. The song has long been known as one of the simplest Christmas carols, one that every kid learns in school. But Guaraldi set it to the lightest pace, one slightly off center, and suddenly what was familiar became more enchanting. Guaraldi’s seeming improvisational take on an old German song reinvented it and even though I didn’t know it at the time, turned me into a jazz lover. Someone who enjoys the emotion, the centering of the music, the possibilities it represents; the surprise I always find.

Linus and Lucy is still impossible for me to hear without seeing the Peanuts characters all dancing freely with near abandon, heads bobbing up and down, feet largely in place, shifting with the beat from side to side, as the now so-familiar piano chords are pounded out.

Guaraldi and his drummer Jerry Granelli and bassist Puzzy Firth (sitting in for Fred Marshall) created one of the strongest enticements for learning to not just appreciate but love jazz, perhaps ever. From the opening melancholy of Christmas Time is Here to the final Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, the music permeates through the characters to become – at least to me – the ultimate message of the holiday: that music can grab onto a person, can wrap itself around both the psyche and the soul to put both in a trance. It’s about expression and individualism, rather than the straight biblical interpretation of Linus’ recitation. Beautiful as that may be, I believe that the ultimate religious experience of A Charlie Brown Christmas comes from the piano chords as decided by Vince Guaraldi. A message of potential as created by the improvisation of great jazz.

The album was re-released in October for the third time. It features the original 1965 recording newly re-mastered with 24-bit technology from the original analog master tapes. Naturally, it’s on CD. But it will also be issued on green vinyl. Nothing says great holiday jazz like green vinyl.

Celebrating my love of jazz on this Sunday, with deepest gratitude to the late, great Vincent Anthony Guaraldi. 

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The Christmas Eve Miracle Mountain Reindeer Dog and more wonderful holiday movies

by Lorin Michel Monday, November 19, 2012 10:15 PM

It’s that time of year again. Thoughts turn to death, broken hearts, missing children, long lost loves, hardened widows, miserly widowers, adorable children, dogs and dastardly weather. Yep. It’s holiday movie season on TV, a tradition led in earnest by the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime. These movies all tend to star either washed-up stars or up-and-comers. They almost always take place somewhere there is freakishly cold weather, or someplace where there is a freakish storm that has never happened before.

I don’t know of any holiday movies being released this year in the theater, not even kid’s movies. But for television, they have been filmed and are ready for broadcast and re-broadcast ad nauseam, now and through December 25. Lifetime TV started several weeks ago, broadcasting a holiday themed movie every afternoon at 4 pm. Don’t ask me how I know this. I will not divulge my source.

Each movie, or telefilm as they’re called in the biz, is full of people needing a good dose of holiday cheer, usually in the form of love. Or redemption. Or some combination there of. Hallmark is offering a mind-numbing 12 new flicks this season and is even promoting this avalanche of cheer as – drum roll – “The 12 New Movies of Christmas.” Catchy.

Not to be outdone, Lifetime, that other bastion of schmaltz, is showing “It’s a Wonderful Lifetime Movie Marathon,” with 10 original movies including the new The Christmas Consultant with David Hasselhoff. Note to the wise: Anything with David Hasselhoff probably should be avoided. I don’t believe any more reason is necessary but in case there is, one word: Baywatch. Nothing says ho-ho like scantily clad lifeguards running around Southern California. No offense to lifeguards.

Lifetime is also serving up The Wishing Tree which tells the tale of holiday angst at a boarding school where a young teacher is having trouble dealing with the death of his wife. Hasselhoff is also having trouble with a dead spouse in his movie. Naturally there’s also another take on the Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, with a flick called It’s Christmas, Carol! where Carol, a busy publisher, gets a visit from the ghost of her dead boss. The dead boss is purportedly played with hilarity by Carrie Fisher.

Holiday Spin features a car crash; The Christmas Heart is about a teenager who needs a heart transplant. The holidays in holiday films are decidedly unhealthy. People die, either before the movie starts, at the end in order to save someone else, or are in danger of dying unless someone else dies first. Lessons are learned, tears are shed, and in the end, a nice Christmas tune wraps everything up nicely, with a bow, and often a very TV-passionate kiss.

I’m a sucker for the holidays and I’m a bigger sucker for holiday movies, though I prefer the old theatrical ones like Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday and Miracle on 34th Street.  For more contemporary movies, I love Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and The Holiday. The television equivalents have to be good holiday movies. I can’t take another one starring Melissa Gilbert, or Richard Thomas. Most television movies tend to be a little lacking in originality, a little too hung up on death.

I remember one from many, many years ago starring the late, great Jessica Tandy and Stephanie Zimbalist. It was called The Story Lady and it was charming. Maybe if I saw it again today, I wouldn’t think so, but I remember it fondly. And with Jessica Tandy, how bad could it have been?

Because I’m a nut for holiday movies, I imagine I’ll watch one or two. I just can’t help myself. Plus, there’s something kind of magical about snow falling in a place where snow doesn’t normally fall, and on Christmas eve, when a child who was missing is magically found by a reindeer, and a dog stays close in order to keep said child warm and the widowed father whose heart has been closed accepts the help from the local sheriff who happens to be a woman and everyone weeps at the end as the telling sound of jingle bells rings through the falling snow. Well, what’s not to like.

Hmmmm. Maybe that could be the 13th new movie of the season on Hallmark, or the 11th on Lifetime. It could be called The Christmas Eve Miracle Mountain Reindeer Dog. I’d watch it. And I’d probably cry.

Celebrating the schmaltz of the season. 

It's son day

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 18, 2012 7:29 PM

Already it's busy around here; already it's starting to feel like the holidays. Even the weather has been cooperating. It rained all yesterday, the air was cool and damp. Today, the sky is filled with big white heavy clouds that won't rain but will keep the temperature down and the mood festive, at least in Chez Michel. Music will play, laughter will flow.

We got up early and took Cooper for his morning walk. Had some coffee and what may well be the last watermelon of the season. It was still good but we can't see it lasting much longer. Then we decided to wash the very dirty Range Rover. Always quite the project. We scrub the aluminum wheels, we climb on a step ladder to do the roof, we vacuum and clean inside as well as outside. Between the two of us, it took about an hour and a half. It's a big car. But it was filthy, having not been washed in weeks and having been rained/splashed/mudded on. Plus Justin comes home for the Thanksgiving holiday today. We want his sleigh to be sparkling.

We haven't seen the kid since March. Hard to believe it's been that long. He was home for a trade show at that point, the entertainment industry’s design, production and technology professionals show that was in Long Beach. He brought his girlfriend and they were gone most of the time. Plus with Bethany with him, we didn't get good quality Justin time. The last time we had good quality Justin time was last December. He even remarked on it, about how he hasn’t really been home to be home in nearly a year. A year. This time, he's coming just to be home, to spend some time with his family (who, by his own admission he's been missing badly), to eat some good home cooking (making his favorites this week, starting with homemade manicotti tonight and garlic bread; New England Clam Chowder tomorrow), sleep, relax, and meet his new dog.

As I write this, the sauce for the manicotti is simmering on the stove and he is somewhere over eastern Utah. His plane is scheduled to land in about 2 hours. The rest of the day will be spent catching up, finding out about school, about the theater, about his work plans for after Christmas. We talk to him occasionally, text more often, and email. But there's nothing like relaxed conversation around the kitchen table. It's a cliché, I know, but sitting around the table having a glass of wine and just chatting is the best way to communicate. When you can see each other's eyes, and see the smile there, it says so much more than words. 

Sunday morning by Karin Kuhlmann

When we return, I'll continue putting the manicotti together, Cooper will snooze underneath the table, nice jazzy music will play in the background, and the family will be together. The only one missing will be Maguire. But his spirit will be here, as it always is. He'll be licking Justin's face, his own big bear of a face will be seen only in our minds, but he'll be in our hearts, as he always will be. 

Life continues. Families come together and move apart. On this Sunday, this son day, we're celebrating the together, with our boy, and living it out loud.

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Shelter from the storm

by Lorin Michel Thursday, November 15, 2012 9:43 PM

Early in January of 1975, Bob Dylan released a single from his 15th studio album, Blood on the Tracks. The song was Shelter from the Storm. The opening lyrics were/are: ‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood; When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud; I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.; “Come in,” she said,; “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

I’m not always a fan of Dylan. Many times I can’t quite understand him. But some of his songs resonate with me; some have long stuck with me. This is one. There are always interpretations to things like this, some right, some way off base. I like to think this song is about trying again, about the magnanimous gestures of others, about decency; about love. I was thinking about this song today, perhaps because there is a storm brewing out in the Pacific and heading for us. I think it’s more likely because I also happened to come upon the fact that November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, a worthy pronouncement that turned my mind to all of the older dogs continually passed by. Dogs in rescues, dogs in shelters. Cats, too. I’m not sure cats have the same stigma as dogs, in terms of age. Cats live longer. Cats are more remote, more independent. Some how they seem less needy and thus, perhaps, a better bet for adoption. This is in no way an insult to cats; merely an observation. Please, readers with cats: enlighten me.

But dogs. In many ways I believe dogs invented the term needy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. When we were looking for what turned out to be Cooper, we went to shelters. The one we have locally, in Agoura Hills, is probably one of the cleanest shelters I’ve ever visited. It’s also a no-kill shelter. It’s not as big as many of the others but it is, nevertheless, full of animals waiting to be wanted. There were many pitbulls and some German shepherds; quite a few small dogs. Many of them were older, calm, casting a weary eye at the strangers casting a hopeful eye toward them. Ultimately we didn’t find our Cooper at a shelter; we got him from a rescue. But we adopted an older, though not definitively senior dog, and we’re thrilled.

A dog who is seven years old or older is considered senior. Naturally size comes into play with smaller dogs considered older later in their lives, but seven is a good gauge. We think Cooper is five or six but he could be older. We really have no idea and honestly don’t care. We wanted an older dog versus a puppy, for many of the reasons sited by those in the know including knowing exactly how big the dog is, his personality and general state of health. Many are already housebroken so there are no accidents to contend with. Supposedly older dogs are also calmer than younger ones; they have less energy. We have not seen this particular trait in our Cooper. Older animals don’t tend to require constant attention. Again, this is not readily evident in Mr. Cooper.

Older dogs know how to behave and listen; they pay attention. They want desperately to be with their new family, all the time. They’ll teach you the true meaning of life if you’ll listen. The writer Milan Kundera wrote that “dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace.”

Dogs, like the finest of wine, age well.

My sister, another dog lover like myself, supports many organizations. It was her “Like” today on Facebook that led me to the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, just one of many organizations drawing attention to National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. Another is an organization that we both support called Old Dog Haven in Washington State. Once you’ve had an older pet, in both my case and my sister’s, an older dog, you come to truly appreciate their majesty and grace, their wisdom; their calmness in nearly every calamity.

Having Maguire is what enabled us to get another dog, to know that we wanted one a bit older. We wanted to give another shelter from the storm.

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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.

Waitin’ all night for Satur-day: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 3, 2012 11:08 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here. For some reason, I have that song in my head, the one that gets sung on Sunday nights when Hey Kevin watches that game where there’s a bunch of big guys running around in really tight colorful outfits. Sometimes he yells: “what are you DOING?!” That’s usually when somebody called the Bears is playing. Hey Lorin yells when those guys from someplace called the Patriots are playing.

There’s a really pretty blonde lady who comes out and sings about waiting all day for Sunday night. Hey Kevin stands in front of the TV and watches her. He doesn’t say anything the whole time she’s singing. It’s like he’s a statue of something. It’s kind of funny. I always chuckle a little. Hey Lorin teases him about how much he likes faith. I didn’t even think Hey Kevin was a religious guy.

Anyway, I had that song in my head this morning as I was walking across the wall before I jumped up onto my favorite branch. Waitin’ all day…. Except that I was thinking about waitin’ all night for Satur-day. It’s a catchy song. I think it’s sort of like “I hate myself for loving you.” That’s a song by Joan Jett from like a really, really long time ago. I don’t know much about music but I kind of like that song, or at least the Sunday night version.

But this morning, I heard Hey Kevin singing it. And it was “waitin’ all night for Satur-day.” And then he sang something like “Mom and dad are the best in OP.” And I couldn’t figure out what he was talking or singing about. I heard a little jingle jangle from the vicinity of their bedroom and I sort of stretched out, wondering just what was going on. Then all of a sudden the door opened and out shot this red-furred knight in training, followed by Hey Kevin in his bathrobe. This red guy ran straight toward the tree I was hanging in, literally, and then he pee’d. Didn’t even look up. Hey Kevin did, though. He looked up at me and said:

“Hey Squire.”

“Hey Kevin. What’s with the red one?”

“This is Cooper. He’s going to be living with us.”

“Cooper.” Hmmmm. “Is he taking the place of the knight?” I couldn’t believe I was asking it but I don’t want anyone to take the knight’s place. He was my liege; I was his squire. We were a couple of guys in the backyard. I’m not ready to let that go.

“Not taking his place,” Hey Kevin said. “No body could ever take his place. He was our most special boy. But Cooper is the new generation; he’s the next guy. He needs a good home and we wanted to give it to him. I hope you two will get along.”

I huffed a bit. I’m not sure I want to get along. But as I gazed down at this hyper mass of wanna-be, I thought, well, maybe it would be OK to have a new knight I could train, that I could serve. It wouldn’t be the same, but it could be different.

I nodded. Hey Kevin nodded. Hey Cooper pee’d again and then raced back toward the house.

“He’s going to need some work,” I said.

“He is,” said Hey Kevin, and then they both went back inside, with Hey Kevin singing his new song.

I’m not sure about this but I’ll give it a try. I may hate myself for liking you, but if Hey Kevin and Hey Lorin think Hey Cooper is OK, then I’ll sing along.

Besides, I’ve been waiting all night for satur-day. The tough get rough in a big-time way. The last one standin’ gets to turn on the play, cause I been waitin’ all night for Satur-day. 

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