Paw prints in the mud

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 7, 2013 10:31 PM

We walk Cooper twice a day. In the morning, it’s usually sometime between 7 and 8:30. The particular route that we take is along a fairly major road that is lined with trees and vegetation on both sides. It’s about 1.2 miles so the dog gets his exercise as do we. If we go late, which sometimes happens on Sundays because we sleep in, the air is warmer and the sidewalks are a touch hotter. The ground is also drier. This is a big deal because when we walk at our usual time, it’s not long after the sprinklers have run. The landscaping crew has them on a timer, probably for sometime before the sun comes up. It keeps the trees thick and lush, the wild flowers blooming. It keeps the street lovely.

It makes the ground muddy.

Muddy ground makes for a very muddy puppy. A puppy who seems to revel in it, who happily prances up into the ground cover before gleefully sliding down, packing nice wet mud into his pads, coating the fur that peaks out from his paws. Then he pads on down the sidewalk leaving Cooper-size prints in his wake.

Cooper was here.

Oh, I try to keep him out of the mud. I must yell out of the mud! at least four times per walk before I finally give up. Actually before I finally realize that the mud doesn’t bother him at all; just me. Only because I know when we get home, we’ll have to clean his feet before he’s allowed in the house. He’s not very good at wiping his feet.

Many a morning has resulted in muddy paw prints on the hardwood floors leading to muddy prints on the carpet in the bedroom followed by me, with a wet and soapy cloth, scrubbing said carpet.

This is why there will be no carpet in the new house. Tile is much easier to clean.

I realize that having a dog means having paw prints in the mud on a fairly regular basis. We had them with Maguire, too. I remember one particular morning after we first moved into this house when he was out in the backyard, probably with his morning cookie. When he didn’t come back to the backdoor and let out his customary I’m ready to come in announcement bark, I called to him. He came flying around the corner, ears trailing behind him, bounding toward me with such gleeful abandon I couldn’t do anything but laugh. Even at the trail of mud and muddy water flying off of his front paws and legs. He had decided to dig in a corner of the yard, after the sprinklers had run. The dirt got progressively muddier as water from the ground filled the hole. He couldn’t have been more pleased with himself. I quickly closed the door to leave him out there.

Kevin got a bucket of warm water and put Maguire’s front paws/legs into it so he could scrub him clean before allowing him into the house. The look of joy was quickly replaced with a look of how can you do this to me?

A friend of mine posted a pic of her yellow lab mix on Facebook the other day. The dog’s name is Olivia and she was standing at the back door, paws up on a table, happy as could be, ready to come in. Covered in mud. I laughed and commented how adorable.

Paw prints in the mud and muddy paw prints in the house are all part of the joy of dog ownership, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Yes, there’s a hassle factor, but the incredible happiness on Cooper’s face as he slips and slides his way up and down the hills on Hawthorne is worth it.

And he’s leaving a little something of himself behind.

At least until the next time the sprinklers run.

Emma Rae, I have a cookbook to put out, and a daughter to raise, and the God damn winter Grand Prix. And I just don’t have time for the nervous breakdown I deserve, so please, don’t ask me to stop and think!

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:32 AM

One of my guilty pleasure movies is 1995’s Something to Talk About. It was written by Callie Khouri, her next film after her Oscar winning Thelma & Louise (also a big fan of that). It’s not an especially great movie. I’m not sure if it’s even a good movie but there’s something about it that has always resonated with me. I think it’s just the whole southern fried family thing, the crisp dialogue, and probably the cast. It stars Julia Roberts, Robert Duval, Gena Rowlands, Kyra Sedgwick and Dennis Quaid.

If I have not mentioned it before, I am a big Dennis Quaid fan. I’ll watch him in just about anything, especially when he flashes that bad boy grin. He can, however, keep his brother, Randy. I am not a fan of his.

The film is lush with dialogue and food and colloquial sayings that sound absurd and yet completely natural when delivered through southern accents with horses and mint juleps in the background. The basic plot has an older daughter’s marriage to her philandering husband unraveling and her realization that she has let her life become something it was never supposed to be, and her subsequent attempts to get it back on track. It’s done with humor and grace and curly hair. It’s rather a hoot.

For whatever reason, as I awoke this morning at my now customary pre-dawn time, my brain already awash in all of the things I needed to do today, knowing full well that I wouldn’t get to half of them, listening to the high chirp of a small bird that seemed to be positioned right outside our open window, listening to the blur of the vacillating fan and the kick of Cooper’s paws against his kennel as he dreamed about birds and cookies and running through fields; as I lay there thinking and listening still snug under the covers in the cool of the coming day, my mind racing even as my body was still, into my brain popped one of my favorite quotes from Something to Talk About.

“Emma Rae, I have a cookbook to put out, and a daughter to raise, and the God damn winter Grand Prix. And I just don’t have time for the nervous breakdown I deserve, so please, don’t ask me to stop and think!”

It is spoken by the lead character, Grace, played with fun and heartbreaking vigor by Julia Roberts, to her sassy, man-obsessed and wisdom-filled younger sister, played hilariously by Kyra Sedgwick in her pre-The Closer days.

It’s the don’t have time for the nervous breakdown part that made me smile because it is rather my life right now. Granted, I’m not putting out a cookbook, my son is already raised and I know nothing about the Grand Prix other than the occasional car race that I am in no way involved in. But with all that is transpiring now, with packing and moving and finding a new place to live, temporarily, and securing loans and making sure escrow is moving forward and then starting another escrow and making phone calls and making contacts, oh, and working full time, I really don’t have time for the nervous breakdown I deserve either.

Instead, I wake up with the birds, to quote a cliché, eventually I get out of bed and let the day wash over me until the night falls and I fall back into bed to sleep for a few hours.

I’m not complaining; just explaining. I chose all of this. It is what I want. It’s just a wee bit stressful, and I’m using this post to spill.

As Emma Rae said in another line of delicious dialogue: “lick it, put a stamp on it, and mail it to someone who gives a sh*t.” That’s good stuff, too; real, honest, and funny even amidst all that was going on in the film’s fictional story, all that is going on in my factual life. It’s worth celebrating.

Now pardon me while I engage in my meltdown.

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live out loud

I'm down with that

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 2, 2013 11:49 PM

It occurred to me once, not too long ago, that I am associated with some places that have some pretty depressing names. I’m not sure why this occurred to me. I have no idea what was happening in my brain at the time, though I suspect both a bunch and not very much at all. I could have been thinking about what to make for dinner, or if there were any soon-to-be-released movies that I’d like to see. Suddenly, there it was, knocking at my imagination and making me wonder.

I was born in Olean, New York which is in the southwestern part of the state, just over the border from Pennsylvania, the state where both my parents were born and raised, in various places with dread-type names. One literally has the word “dred” in it as in Eldred. It’s a tiny little berg in Pennsylvania, where my dad was from. There aren’t many people who lived there then or now. For the first year of my life, my mom, dad and I lived in a very small apartment on the second floor of some sort of an equally small apartment building. I think they had a washing machine but no clothes dryer. My mother used to tell the story of how she would have to hang the cloth diapers out on a clothesline where they would freeze. She would bring them in, sheets of ice, and lean them up against the furniture to thaw. I suspect she used to dread having to do laundry.

When I was three or four, we moved to another slightly eerie place, minus an ‘e.’ Erie, Pennsylvania. I don’t remember much about Erie. I have fragments of memories. Like Andrew and Gigi who lived behind us on Kruger Avenue. We had an apartment; they lived in a big dark house at the end of twisting driveway. I’m sure it was neither big, nor twisting, but that’s my memory of it. I remember a house burning down just across the street because of candles. It makes my memories of Erie sort of eerie.

Then we moved to a suburb called Fairview. A much nicer sounding name but I don’t remember it much at all. We built a house. It was a ranch, with three bedrooms. Scott was little. I think Khris was born there. I remember sharing a room briefly. There was wallpaper. I think yellow daisies.

My mother grew up near a place that, at the time, was sort of the pits, literally and figuratively. Pittsburgh. Back then it was a steel town. The big factory chimneys of U.S. Steel plants belched a constant stream of black soot into the air. My mother used to talk about how black the bottoms of her feet would get. I remember the same when we would visit my great aunts, Beryl and Eleanor, who lived in the big brick house up and across from one of the three rivers that pulse through the city. I’m sure the river, too, was grimy. I can’t imagine how it could have been any other way. We would race through the house and the bottoms of our feet would get black, too.

I didn’t mind it as a kid but as I’ve grown, I realize that it really was the pits. At least when I was little. Pittsburgh has since become a much more fashionable city, a much more cultural place; cosmopolitan. It started many years ago, I know. It was the most livable city in the country in 2007.

But I don’t visit Pittsburgh anymore. I have flown through it; I have changed planes. The airport is decent. I’ll be there tomorrow night as I fly in for the weekend, to help my mother clean out Aunt Beryl’s house, the one up and across from one of the rivers. I won’t get to spend a lot of time experiencing the new Pittsburgh but I will embrace it anyway. I love that they were able to reinvent themselves. I wish that all places and people could do the same.

It’s probably not the pits anymore. I have no idea if Erie is still eerie; probably not. The last time I was in Eldred, when my grandmother died in 2001, it was still a little backwards, a little quiet; much the same as it had been when I would run through the fresh cut grass that would turn my feet green.

That appears to be another running meme in my life, places that change the color of my feet. It occurs to me now that that’s a whole other chapter, another story lodged in my mind. I wonder where it might take me.

I wonder what I’ll discover when I get there.  

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live out loud

Oh, baby. What a dog.

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 26, 2013 12:37 AM

I’m not a fan of the derogatory statement “what a dog.” It’s used to insult people behaving badly but it’s actually more of an insult to dogs. Dogs are usually much better than people. Yes, they’re animals. But only if you think of animals as being creatures less than human, and I don’t. I’m of the mindset that animals are creatures often better than human.

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I am a huge dog person. That saying alone explains a bit about how I think. I’m a dog person. A dog-person. I love dogs, but I understand dogs. I am part dog. Maybe I was a dog in another life. I often joke that in my next life, I’m coming back as a dog with a good owner in a nice house.

I see a dog and I go all gooey inside. I want to get close to them, to pet them; to hug and kiss on them. I am careful to ask the owner first, of course. Because sometimes people train their dogs to be aggressive, or because they may be aggressive by nature. I understand this. Still, I ooh and awe. I smile. Hell, I grin. My Facebook page is covered with dog-related pages. My checkbook cover (yes, I still have a checkbook, for those bills that I can’t yet pay online and for emergencies) is dog bones.

Maguire was my Honey Bear, my big furry baby. I loved that dog more than life itself and was nearly inconsolable when we lost him, as was Kevin (as was Roy, Bobbi, everyone who knew him). In our eyes, he was a fur-person, capable of understanding most of what we said and of carrying on conversations. Yes, we often spoke for him but he was very articulate.

Cooper came along in October and for a while it was a bit like having a new roommate. We didn’t know any of his quirks; he didn’t know any of ours. But soon he settled right in and before you know it, he too became quite the conversationalist. Turns out he’s pretty funny. Great sense of humor, fairly smart. While he’s not the cultured boy that Maguire was, and is, in fact, more of a Honey Boo Boo than a Honey Bear. More trailer trash than high class. We love him anyway, because he’s now our baby.

Turns out we’re not the only ones. There are an awful lot of people out there who feel the same way. According to research, people who think of their dogs as babies are actually kind of correct in that dogs react to their humans in a manner that “eerily mimics how human children respond to their parents.” The researchers used an experiment that involved something called the “secure base effect,” something that is typically found in the nearly unbreakable emotional ties between parents and their children.

Dog test subjects, who earned treats by manipulating interactive toys, were placed in situations where there was an absent owner, a silent owner and an encouraging owner (I would have used the word “parent” since we’re talking about dogs being our babies but I suppose that’s picking nits). The dogs whose owners/parents weren’t present were much less interested in working for their treats than when those owners/parents were in the room.

Dogs appeared to be most comfortable and most willing to take a chance when they were near their people, offering what has been deemed “the first evidence for the similarity between the secure base effect found in dog-owner and child-caregiver relationships.”

Evidently science has already deciphered this effect in human-children versus fur-children. Kids who were able to use their mother as a secure base were found to be more motivated and persistent than those whose mothers were absent.

This comes as no real surprise to either dog trainers or dog owners. It certainly comes as no surprise to this dog owner.

Maguire was my baby; I spent every day with him. Cooper is now my baby; I spend every day with him. Maguire was a good boy, smart, knew all of his toys by name, had a vocabulary that was at least a hundred if not more words. Cooper is becoming a good boy, too. He’s smart; he’s learning his toys by name. He knows to take one up to my office and to bring it down at night, and trot around the house with it in his mouth. He sits, he does paw bump, he does stay game and he gets rewarded for it.

What a dog. What a boy.

The adventures of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 9, 2013 12:20 AM

Episode 4: Cooper exercises his right to choose

Once upon a time there was an amazingly well-behaved dog and his name was Maguire Michel. He was blessed with an extraordinary amount of politeness, especially for a dog. He wouldn’t dream of taking anything that wasn’t his, except for the one time that Bobbi was here and she had this adorable faux fur purse. She put it down on top of some bags in the kitchen and Maguire proceeded to sit and stare at it for an hour. You could almost see him trying to decide if he was going to take it as he was sure it was a new toy for him, but since no one had given it to him, he couldn’t take it. It wouldn’t be polite.

We could put food on the coffee table and never worry that it wouldn’t be there if we had to leave the room. He might be sitting right next to it, again staring at it and drooling uncontrollably at the sheer thought of a piece of pizza, or a chicken breast, even seared ahi tuna from the grill. He would wait patiently until we returned, and then eat whatever we offered him, off of a fork. Very delicately, very politely.

When we put something special in his bowl, he would stand, ready to launch, but with his eyes on us, waiting for permission. If we didn’t give it, he didn’t eat. We always gave it.

We used to joke that we could put the turkey on the floor at Thanksgiving and he wouldn’t eat it unless we said it was OK. Granted, we might be flooded out because of the dog drool. But we’d still have turkey.

We don’t know where he got this trait as it wasn’t anything we ever taught him. He just seemed to be instinctively polite, incredibly well-behaved. The kind of dog who would never stick his nose into a bag on the floor and pull out food that belonged to someone else.

I’d like to introduce you again to the newest member of the family, one Master Cooper Michel. He is not at all cursed with the quaint idea of being polite. His motto is simple: “if it’s on the floor, it’s mine.”

Also, “if it’s on the coffee table, it’s probably mine. Especially if you’re not there to guard it.”

Witness the goings on of last night. We had a lovely dinner of pan-cooked salmon, steamed cauliflower with a garlic/mushroom/blue cheese/butter sauce, and sliced strawberries. Roy and Bobbi were here and we had spent the first hour or so of Fritini – which has become Cooper’s favorite holiday. It was also Maguire’s – sitting on the patio, sipping cocktails and having a healthy vegetable crudités. Also dried peas coated with wasabi. [Note: if you have not had these, run, quickly, to Trader Joe’s and stock up. They’re absolutely addictive. Also, too, they’re good for clearing the sinuses.]

Cooper, like Maguire, always sits as close to Roy as caninely possible. Roy, who bills himself as “Daddy” on Fritini, proceeds to feed Cooper cheese and crackers, carrots, and anything else the dog would like to munch. Roy did the same for Maguire. He was also Maguire’s Fritini dad. If Roy stops feeding Cooper for anything longer than a minute, the paw comes up to rest on Roy’s leg. As if to say: “Who’s my Daddy, now?”

Once we served dinner, Cooper calmed down. While he likes salmon, he was content to only have a little bit. He didn’t seem to care much for the cauliflower.

We were wrong.

Roy had a bit of both salmon and cauliflower left over and so he wrapped it up nicely in some aluminum foil and tucked it into one of their bags on the floor in the kitchen. Everyone, including Cooper, continued to savor the wine. Kevin went inside at one point to get a sweatshirt and Cooper decided to go with him. Kevin returned. Cooper did not.

About 30 seconds later, I noticed that the dog was nowhere to be found. I asked Kevin “where’s the dog?”

Kevin: “What dog?” He jokes. He’s a kidder, that one.

I went into the house and toward the kitchen, calling his name. Now, the one thing you need to know about Cooper is that he is nearly surgically attached to me. The fact that he was not next to me on the patio, nor was he coming when I called was concerning to say the least. I knew he was fine. I also knew he must be doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.

I was right. I walked into the kitchen to find the remnants of cauliflower and mushrooms and garlic and blue cheese spread across the kitchen floor, and my dog, my adorably not-polite dog, standing in the middle of the room, looking at me innocently, with a huge piece of aluminum foil sticking out of both sides of his mouth.

Hey, if it’s on the floor, even if it’s in a bag, even if it’s wrapped up in aluminum foil, it’s his. He was just exercising his right to choose. And he chose Roy’s – Daddy’s – doggie bag.

The end.

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live out loud

Making someone happy

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 8, 2013 2:49 AM

Recently I was privy to a Facebook conversation between two long-ago co-workers, now Facebook friends, about happiness and how they had tried for so long to make other people happy, often at their own expense. I was fascinated for several reasons. First, I’m always fascinated when people share personal information on Facebook. And second, because it’s a topic that I have long thought about myself.

I think it’s human nature to want to please. We start out wanting to please our parents. Then we segue into wanting to please our teachers and then our peer group so that we can remain in good standing within that group. We get into a relationship and we want to please that person, doing what we think they want and what they like, what will make them happy. Then we get married and we do the same.

We go to college and we try to please our professors. We get jobs and try to please our employers. And while that’s part of being a responsible human and a responsible adult, it is also, in some ways, about not being responsible to ourselves.

Here’s the gist of the conversation:
“I realize I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to make other people happy.”

“How old are you?”

“Too old to be doing that. I realize that while I was spending all of that time making other people happy, I was doing nothing to make me happy.”

“I know what you mean. I spent so much of my life trying to make other people happy and I’m not sure that you can do it.”

“It’s sad when you think about it because I really want this particular person to be happy but I’ve realized that I can’t be responsible for his happiness.”

“When you realize that, you’re actually on your way to true happiness for you.”

“Maybe I’m finally on the way to happiness then.”

And then it ended. I don’t know why the person who started the dialogue was talking about making others happy without making himself happy. I don’t know who he was talking about. The person he was talking to didn’t mention any specifics either and that’s when I realized that happiness is an abstract. There is no definition for it. It doesn’t exist because someone says it does. It exists because you choose for it to exist. It’s not big and round and fun. It simply is. Happiness is something you need to find inside. It’s about self-awareness. You can’t be responsible for making someone else happy because you’re not inside their soul. They have their own unique situation that allows them to find, or reject, happiness. They can choose to see if they can make someone else happy but they do so at their own expense. They need, instead, to choose to make themselves happy which will then make others want to be with them, and thus perhaps find happiness.

People can and should be responsible for each other. We can care for each other, love one another. We can put food on the table and supply shelter and clothing from the storm. But we can’t make each other happy because we don’t know how. We can only do what makes us happy and hope that it’s enough to help those we love to be happier, too.

It’s a matter of self-awareness. And yes, self-preservation.

It’s a motto I share, the religion that guides me. I am responsible for my own happiness because if I am I can hopefully brighten the lives of those around me because I can. I can be content and smile. And I can live it out loud.

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live out loud

The simple joys

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 11, 2013 10:42 PM

Every once in a while I realize that I have a pretty good life. I have a family that is filled with good, decent and loving people. I have friends who make me happy that we are able to spend time together. I have a son who has turned from a teenager with little direction to a young adult with passion to a man who is ambitious, loving, thoughtful and funny. I have a husband who makes me laugh and who loves me even when I'm not particularly lovable. I have a dog, a home, some dirt in the desert, and a career that I actually like. I am blessed, and I know it.

Today as I was outside, enjoying a warm May Saturday, a light breeze trying desperately to cool the 85º air and failing miserably, it suddenly hit me. My life is good and the joy I get from the simplest things in that life are enough to make me laugh out loud. A wash of contentment came over me. It happens sometimes and at the strangest times, and almost always when I’m in the middle of doing next to nothing. Perhaps it’s because those are the times when I actually have time to contemplate.

Simple joys are those that you don’t have to work at and sometimes don’t even plan. Like washing the car today. I get tremendous joy from lathering up the paint, standing on the step ladder to reach the windshield and the roof, rinsing it, drying it and then admiring how good it looks. Today, it also got vacuumed, thanks to Kevin, so it’s pretty inside and out. I felt accomplished.

I get some of my greatest joy when I’m eating, especially when enjoying a meal with friends or family. Relaxing, talking, laughing, having wine with music on in the background. This is my idea of the perfect way to spend time.

Did I mention the simple joy of wine?

I love experimenting with a new recipe. Taking the time to put something together, smelling garlic or ginger or whatever as it fills first the kitchen and then the house, knowing that if it tastes as good as it smells, we’re going to have a fine meal. That fills me with joy.

When I can’t see someone but can talk to them, spending even just a few minutes or as much as several hours, enjoying each other’s stories, sharing each other’s lives, it makes me happy.

I love texting with my sister on a near daily basis, just to say ‘hi,’ ‘thinking about you,’ ‘how are things there?’ It makes me feel closer to her somehow, like we’re together more than we actually are. Technology has done that for us, and that makes me happy, too.

Music is one of my greatest joys. Depending on my mood, the day of the week or the time of day, I almost always have music playing. Jazz, the standards, coffeehouse rock, classic rock, new age. Music is, to me, as necessary as sunshine.

Freshly ground and brewed coffee.

Cantaloupe when it comes back into season. Ditto peaches and nectarines.

A perfectly ripe avocado.

The simple joy of going for a ride on the motorcycle, of walking the dog, or watching a really good rerun on television, of getting lost in a phenomenal book, especially if I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it turns out to be. These kinds of things are the meaning of life.

The exquisite joy of having ideas. I have them all the time, especially ideas for things to write. I scribble notes on the paper next to the bed, as I did this morning, getting them out of my head and out onto a place where they can be seen, analyzed, interpreted and hopefully developed. I believe that the constant flow of ideas is a source for the constant maybe of possibilities.

And all of the possibilities that life continually presents may simply be the greatest joy of all. 

Joy in a growl

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 24, 2013 11:41 PM

I am in love. It has happened gradually and yes, a bit unexpectedly. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to love again but it snuck up on me and now I can hardly stop smiling. I whistle during the day. I find myself singing sometimes and I don’t sing. I laugh out loud for little to no reason at all. It is joyous, this love, for it is new and bubbly and fun, and growing.

The love of which I speak? My Cooper.

When we lost our Maguire last March, I could hardly imagine ever having another dog let alone loving one. And yet, within months of losing him, I was lost. I was lonely. I missed the jazz feet on the hard wood, the drool across the floor, the toys, in various states of disarray all over the house. The wonderfulness of fur. Everywhere. I missed my Maguire, and I still do, but by October of last year, I was ready to try again. To heal my broken heart. To fill the empty place with a beautiful new face.

I found Cooper on Pet Finder. He was a rescue and I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I looked at him for weeks before I even told Kevin that I was thinking I was ready. Kevin, of course, was not ready. He was prepared to never be ready again. He loved Maguire fiercely and the thought of another made him almost angry. No one could replace Maguire.

I explained that I didn’t want to replace Maguire, that no one dog could ever replace such an amazing animal, the love of our lives. But I needed to have a dog in the house. I had found one. Would he at least take a look? Begrudgingly he agreed. We met Cooper, then Andy, and made the decision to take him. It was not love at first sight. It wasn’t even love after a week. For a short time I worried that I’d been too hasty. That I shouldn’t have gotten another dog so soon. The memory of Maguire and his Maguireness was still too fresh. After all, I could still smell his fur if I tried hard enough, and truth be told I didn’t have to try very hard.

We had our fair share of issues with Cooper. I worried and stewed. I wasn’t feeling the rush, the heart palpitations, the sheer bliss of seeing his little face and hearing his feet as they danced across the floor.

But then something happened. Things changed. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was kiss his nose. And hug him close, and rub his belly. And play with him. And take care of him, to let him know that after years as a foster puppy, he had finally found his forever home.

Tonight, I met my friend Connie for a glass of wine. We laughed and talked and exchanged stories about family. We had a great time. While I was there I got a text message, from Cooper, relayed through Cooper’s dad, that he had gone for a walk, that he and dad were doing fine and that he’d even had dinner and it was good. I smiled.

When I got home and came in from the garage, a little red and white face was anxiously awaiting my arrival. His tail was thumping against the wall. We exchanged a pet and a hello, and then he took off like a shot, looking for a toy, any toy but most likely Wubba. He was excited! Mom was home! Life was as it should be! His family was complete! And he needed to share his joy via his toys.

Wubba was still in my office so he couldn’t quite find him, but he found two other toys that he proceeded to growl at as he tossed them round the room with great joy. I watched it all with amusement and, yes, love. As I watched him racing around the room, throwing his toys through the air with wild abandon, all because he was just so damned excited that I was home, I was suddenly overcome. I realized that I had fallen completely and totally, head over heels in love with my dog. I don’t know exactly when things changed but they did.

Maybe it’s the complete happiness he has in playing with his toys with both me and his dad in the room. His life is complete. And now, again, ours is too.

Somebody once said something along the lines of “once you have loved a dog, your heart will never truly be full again until you allow another in.” It’s a bad paraphrase but the sentiment is a good one.

I have allowed another in; we have. And my heart – our hearts – are all the better for it. Maguire would understand. And I think celebrate it with us.

Even though he was never much for other dogs. 

Interview with a Squire

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 13, 2013 11:02 PM

He shows up on time, dapper in his gray fur tipped with hints of black. It is darker nearer his body, and it occurs to me that he is aging the opposite of humans and even dogs, or at least the late Maguire, the one he dubbed his Knight. He has been known ever since as the Squire, the ever-present attendant and companion to the noble dog, the one who helped get him ready for battle and in the end, helped him prepare for the inevitable.

He settles himself into the corner of the branch of the birch tree in the back yard. The sun streams down through the trees, the leaves around him rustle slightly. He pays them no attention. Pulling a nut out from his cheek he starts to nibble.

“You don’t mind if I eat, do you?” he asks politely. “I’ve been traveling and I lost a little weight. Now the missus wants me to get healthy. She doesn’t like me skinny.”

I assure him that it’s perfectly fine for him to eat and nod, agreeing that he looks a bit thin but that he also looks good. Perhaps it’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve seen him haunting our trees, racing along the walls and dancing atop Kevin’s – Hey, Kevin – studio. I ask him where he’s been. Between bites and acorn chews he tells me.

“I got a job,” he says. “Some squirrels from Washington contacted me through squirrel mail and said they were getting ready for this thing called Squirrel Week. And I thought, come on. There’s a week celebrating me?”

I say that I’ve heard of that but didn’t know much about it.

He chews for a minute, bringing his little squirrel hands up to his mouth, and then he swallows. He tosses the rest of the nut to the side. He starts to speak again and then he freezes. Suddenly he is on high alert. His fur stands on end, the black tips at attention, his black eyes straight ahead, his ears perked.

Inside the house, the new dog, the knight-wannabe, stirs. I am out on the patio with a cup of coffee and the new dog, known as Cooper, wants to be outside with me. He is rather attached to me, as it turns out. But as I am having a chat with the Squire, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have him racing around, trying to cause trouble. I tell Cooper to hush and assure the Squire that we’re cool.

“Sometimes he makes me wish I was a flying squirrel,” the Squire mutters.

Squirrel Week, it turns out, was started by The Washington Post to celebrate the much loathed and more beloved rodents –

“Rodents,” he repeats. “Piiittthhhh.”

– who are descended from the Sciuridae family from some 40 million years ago. There are 285 known relative-types and most live in either terribly cold climates or exceptionally hot areas. They like to eat birdseed and nuts, they scavenge and forage for food and they love to play chicken with cars. I have seen too many relatives of our beloved Squire end up splat on the road. It’s not pretty. I see them dart out from seemingly nowhere and as they start across the asphalt I find myself cheering them on: “Go squirrel, go!”

“We’re creative in our approach to life,” the Squire says after a few moments of silence. “If we need to get someplace, we get there. We call it the squirrel squirt. If we need to extract a nut, we figure it out. It might take a while, but it happens. It’s about overcoming challenges. You know, like being called a rodent.”

That is a challenge, I agree. As the fictional Carrie Bradshaw once intoned: squirrels are just rats with cuter outfits. I admit that I’ve always found that funny. The Squire looks at me steadily. I can tell he’s trying to decide if he should be insulted. I assure him he shouldn’t be. I also laugh at jokes about Italians and about women, even sometimes about Italian women. He smiles. He says it’s good to be back and that his job didn’t really pan out. I ask what it was.

“Getting all 285 to pose for one picture,” he says. “Wasn’t happening. Not even close.”

I have one more question for the Squire. How is he getting along without his Knight?

“Oh, you know, it’s hard,” he says sadly. He’s quiet then, lost in squirrel thoughts. “I miss the big guy. And he was a really good guest blogger. I have trouble with that sometimes.” He pauses.

“I guess I still have big paws to fill,” he says with a smile.

And with that he is up off the branch and scurrying up the tree. I watch him go, wondering why the Washington Post felt the need to have a Squirrel Week and if Cooper will ever be the knight we hope he’ll be. I’m lost in my own squirrel thoughts when I hear my name:

“Hey Lorin,” he says. I look but can’t find him. “Sometimes you just gotta let the nuts fall where they may.” I smile. “And May will be here before you know it! Bye!”

His voice disappears then, too. But the Squire is back, and I for one am celebrating him – and all of his brethren – on this Saturday as we are all living it out loud … in cute outfits. 

The therapy of music

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 10, 2013 9:45 PM

The British orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski once said: “A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.”

I interpret this quote as saying that both are art forms, both start from nothing but a thought, a desire, a feeling. A painter has something tangible in front of him, something he can touch. A writer is much the same, with a piece of paper, or a computer screen. A musician has her instruments. They exist in the quiet until she gives them life and their melodic sounds paint the air with song.

Our house is often filled with music, chosen for the time of the day, the day of the week, and the mood of the house. On Sunday mornings, when the sun is lazy and we are equally so, I usually put on a Live365 station called Seascapes. It’s a blend of new age and instrumentals, a bit of jazz. It’s very mellow and non-intrusive. During the week, I play a variety of jazz, 70s soft rock, and whatever hits me as being interesting. Sometimes I opt for the silence rather than the paint.

On Friday nights, we flood the house with standards. Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, and more current crooners like Steve Tyrell, Michael Buble, Harry Connick, Jr., and Diana Krall. It’s the kind of music that goes exceedingly well with martinis.

When Saturday rolls around, we tend to blast out classic rock, as if we’re reliving our youth. When we’re working on a house project or even cleaning, we tend to put on the Los Angeles radio station – yes, actual radio with commercials and everything – KLOS and it always plays exactly what we need. We sing along, we dance, we get stuff done.

Music can make you fall in love. Actually it’s probably your hormones making you fall in love but music helps set the mood. When Kevin and I had our first date, we went to a place called Monty’s, at the corner of Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards. There was a piano player, a lounge act, who played a lot of covers, one of which was the stupidly and unnecessarily majestic MacArthur’s Park. But we both found ourselves singing along to it and generally loving it as if it had been composed by Mozart. We knew all the lyrics. I think we started to fall in love during MacArthur’s Park.

People have a “song” that is theirs; they don’t have a painting or a book. They have music that defines their relationship. Ours is not MacArthur’s Park. It is the song Get Here by Oleta Adams. I don’t remember how it became our song – perhaps my husband does. But I do remember that it’s ours, and every time it comes on, we stop whatever we’re doing and crank the stereo. It was the second to the last song that played before we walked down the aisle. (The song that played when we walked down the aisle was George Winston’s Canon.)

Music can break your heart. If a relationship you’ve been in ends, every song you hear after that breakup seems to have been written only for you. It’s as if the musician took up residence in your heart, in the space where your love used to reside.

Music can make you angry. Loud, pulsing hip hop music irritates me. I can’t listen to it. It raises my blood pressure and not in a good way. Roy and Bobbi live in an area of the San Fernando Valley where the proximity to other homes and apartments is incredibly close. They have a neighbor that blasts Mexican polka music that makes their teeth hurt.

Music can soothe your soul. It can send you soaring to incredible heights or crashing to depths of despair. It’s important at weddings, and at funerals. It sets the stage for a life, and it celebrates the end of one. During the film (a personal favorite) The Big Chill, the song that plays during the funeral at the beginning is an organ version of The Rolling Stones’ You can’t always get what you want. The organ version eventually and fairly quickly becomes the Stones’ version, and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Music is therapy. It sets the mood, enhancing or squashing. It permeates a room, it helps you drive, it gets you through the day. It flows over you and settles the soul.

The 19th century German poet Berthold Auerbach wrote: “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” That’s a song worth celebrating, one worth singing out loud. 

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