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. 

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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live out loud

Oh what a knight: observations from outside

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

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, this morning. See my red fur?

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

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

“Hey Kevin. How’s he doing?”

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

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

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

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

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. 

The mother of us all

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 29, 2012 9:33 PM

I am forever amazed at the power of nature. I am even more amazed at how we mere mortals think we have power over that power. We build skyscrapers near fault lines and pretend that we have the technology to allow a 100-story building to sway in the face of an 8 point earthquake. We build mansions on a coastline that is continuously ravaged by a pounding surf. We put houses in the middle of nowhere and nowhere burns.

I am forever reminded of this, never more so than when we have a major weather event, which we seem to have at least once every couple of months. Sandy has come ashore and it is wreaking havoc up and down the eastern and weather-beaten seaboard. It made landfall in Atlantic City, New Jersey at 6:45 pm with 90 mile per hour winds and torrential rains. 2.2 million people were already without power before the superstorm hit. Thousands of flights were cancelled. A replica of the HMS Bounty sank off of Hatteras, North Carolina, stranding many and killing one. Snow was being forecast for elevations above 3000 feet. Parts of West Virginia were already under a blanket of white.

Mother Nature has such beauty, such majesty. This planet of ours is truly remarkable. Just look at what is in this country alone. The rocky shoreline of the northeast, the towering pine trees and arching mountain ranges. The sandy beaches further south. The warm waters of the gulf. The thick trees that give way to rolling hillsides and ice-cold lakes. Flat plains covered with wild grasses that blow all the time. Cold winds and more mountains across the north, flat desert sands and deep red canyons to the southwest; palm trees and another coast that’s less rocky and thus more accessible. The waters churn with the tides. Birds fly, fish swim, animals prowl and people are invited to be one with it all, to embrace the beauty and the wonder and the idea of something greater than all of us.

Most of us do; some of us are too arrogant. We think that it’s all here for us. It’s not. It’s all here in spite of us, and it is our responsibility to care for it. I’m not going to get into environmental correctness, though I think we should all practice it. I believe, as the saying goes, that we are but stewards of this house. We are so blessed to have this planet, to live with our mother Earth. Our Mother Nature.

She is not simply of our country. She became popular in the Middle Ages but her origin can be traced to Ancient Greece. Her name occurs in Mycenaean Greek as Mother Gaia. In Greek mythology, “Demeter (the goddess of harvest) would take the place of her grandmother, Gaia, and her mother, Rhea, as goddess of the earth in a time when humans and gods thought the activities of the heavens more sacred than those of earth.”

She also appears as Inanna or Ishtar on Mesopotamian tablets in the third millennium B.C. Of course, later medieval Christians in Europe thought of Mother Nature as something created by god. She was a personification, not a goddess.

The Algonquian legend says that “beneath the clouds lives the Earth-Mother from whom is derived the Water of Life, who at her bosom feeds plants, animals and human.” She is strong and rarely silent, forceful but not necessarily vengeful. She will not, however, be taken for granted and she announces her presence with authority, as she did this morning when the news coverage began, and tonight, when she roared ashore.

While I would never celebrate the devastation nor the inconvenience, I am celebrating the power and the majesty, her majesty. As one who has lived through blizzards, firestorms, mudslides and earthquakes, I have come to respect her authority and to worship her beauty any way and all ways.

I wish all those who have been visited by this mother of a storm dog-speed and high ground. 

So we got a dog

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 28, 2012 7:06 PM

I have been missing having a dog for months, specifically missing having Maguire. After we lost him in March, our lives were less hectic. There was no more dog fur everywhere or on everything, or dog slobber on the floor. There were no trips to Petco for food and “hip cookies,” chewable treats packed with glucosamine and chondroitin for his stiff and arthritic hips. Suddenly there were no chew toys in the hospital, otherwise known as the top of the refrigerator, where all toys that had been ceremoniously pulled apart with their stuffing placed haphazardly on the floor around the now unstuffed and flat carcass went for surgical repair.

After we lost him, our lives were less full.

I have long been of the mind set that when you have something wonderful in your life, and you lose that something, you ultimately want it again. People who have long happy marriages and are completely in love with their spouse, and then lose that spouse to death, often have a strong desire to remarry again quickly. Some people dismiss those marriages and think that it’s disrespectful to the person who died. But I’ve always thought the opposite. If you are lucky enough to know the joy of a good, rewarding relationship, it’s actually a testament to the person who was lost to remarry again. Or so I’ve convinced myself.

It’s how I felt about having a dog. We had the world’s greatest dog and for 15 plus years he brought joy into our lives. When he was gone, the grief was overwhelming. It took me months before I could talk about him; longer still before I didn’t cry. Even now, as I think of that big beautiful bear, I am tearing up. I loved him so very much.

And it’s because of that love that I missed the presence of a dog in our home. Specifically, I missed Maguire’s presence, but he was never coming back. And I wanted, and yes needed, a dog in our lives. So a few weeks ago, I decided that it was getting close to time. I was feeling ready. I knew Kevin wouldn’t be quite there though, so we had to talk about it. Maguire was the love of his life and in his mind, no dog would ever be able to take his place. We talked and talked and ultimately he too came to realize that it would be OK. There will never be another Maguire, but there can be another dog who is wonderful and who brings us constant joy.

We went to the local shelter several times. We even went to another nearby shelter. We weren’t entirely sure what we wanted in terms of type but we figured we’d know when we found him or her. We did know that we wanted to adopt an adult dog, one that was at least 3. We wanted to give a dog who had been given up on a happy life. We wanted a mutt, again the type of dog a lot people don’t want. We didn’t want a puppy; everybody wants a puppy. We wanted a dog who needed to be rescued.

The shelters, sadly are filled with pit bulls and Chihuahuas, and some German shepherds. It’s fascinating and sad to think how many people had these dogs and essentially threw them away. We don’t particularly like small dogs, and pit bulls and German shepherds are a little too big. Then I started looking at some of the local rescue groups; I went on Petfinder. And there he was. A five-year old golden retriever mixed with some type of herding dog (we’re pretty sure it’s border collie). Red fur, floppy ears, and an eye infection. His name was Andy. Other than that, he was perfect. Or so we hoped.

I emailed the woman whose group (Labs and Buddies) had him. She’s an attorney in Westlake Village and we spent at least a week trying to arrange a time that would work for everyone. Finally, on Thursday late afternoon, we drove to Westlake and met this 50-pound furball self. He was nutty and unfocused, unsettled and completely oblivious to our presence. All we could do was laugh as he raced around the little grassy knoll.

We left that night, went to the Wineyard and talked about what to do. We were nervous, scared, excited, terrified. I sent a note to the rescue group that night: we wanted to be “Andy’s” forever home. On Friday late afternoon, that’s exactly what we became.

Andy became Cooper and Cooper became a Michel. For the first 24 hours, he remained unsettled and unsure; his stomach upset. He was afraid to sleep even though he was obviously exhausted. We went for a long walk on Saturday morning and a shorter one last night. Another short one this morning and then tonight, we’ll go for a longer one. Today he is markedly more calm, more comfortable in his new surroundings. As I write this, he’s sleeping on the floor here in the kitchen. I know he’s sleeping, not just because his eyes are closed (a dead giveaway I know) but because he’s dreaming. His front and back feet are racing, he’s growling. His hedgehog toy is beside him. He seems content.

We expect it to be several weeks before he knows that he’s home, before he finally understands that he’s not going anywhere. We know that it will take us a few weeks, too, to get re-acclimated to having four feet prancing on the floors. Already there is fur everywhere, and slobber; toys where for eight months there were none.

We will never forget our beloved Maguire. He will always live in our hearts. I think, and I hope, he would be pleased to know that it was because of him that we could adopt another. And so… we got another dog. Named Cooper.

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. 

Can we please have an honest discussion on peanut butter?

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 23, 2012 10:32 PM

I hear my husband down in the kitchen. First he opens a cabinet ­– I’m guessing it’s the pantry – to remove either crackers or the jar of peanut butter or both. If he then walks back across the kitchen to the frig I’ll know it’s just the PB. It is. The refrigerator door opens, a drawer slides out, I hear the telling rustle of the plastic bag containing the celery stalks. He’s having his favorite late afternoon snack.

I’m thinking of joining him. Like the husband unit, I’m a big fan of peanut butter, specifically of the Creamy Jif variety. I know, I know. It’s probably not as good for us as natural peanut butter or even the reduced fat Creamy Jif peanut butter. Truth time: I have actually started buying the reduced fat Creamy Jif, with its nice green banner splashed across the front. It tastes pretty good, nice and nutty, smooth with just a hint of sweet, and none of the oil that always seems to pool in natural peanut butter.

I realize that many who suffer from peanut allergies will never experience the sheer childhood joy of digging a spoon into a jar and then licking the peanut butter slowly as if it’s a lollipop. Or of watching your dog try desperately to remove the peanut butter that has gotten lodged into the arched roof of his mouth. He cocks his head and the tongue works and works and works and works as his eyes roll back in his head. Of biting into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with Wonder bread. I’m sorry about that. I also realize there are many who stay away from peanut butter because of its high caloric and fat content, but it is also high in resveratrol, protein, vitamins, magnesium and fiber. I myself don’t eat it often, but I do love it slathered on a graham cracker. Or a Ritz cracker. Or, if I’m going for healthy, a cold, crisp slice of apple.

This nuttiest of butters has actually been invented and reinvented many times in history, starting with the ancient Incas in 950 B.C. who may have been the first to turn peanuts into a paste-like substance. Crop peanuts migrated from South America to Africa when early explorers made the trip around Cape Horn. Spain soon got into the act as well, trading the wondrous little nuts snug in their double, curvaceous shell to the early American colonies. The first commercial peanut crop was grown in Virginia in the early 1800s and in North Carolina beginning in 1818.

George Washington Carver, a scientist, botanist, educator and inventor, was said to have discovered three hundred uses for peanuts, including paper, ink and oils in 1880. It was Carver who turned peanuts into a significant crop in the American South in the early 1900s.

It’s not known who actually invented peanut butter though there seems to have been a patent issued to Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal for the “finished product of the process of milling roasted peanuts between heated surfaces until the peanuts entered a fluid or semi-fluid state.” I don’t know about you but that sounds suspiciously, wonderfully like peanut butter. The year was 1884.

It was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, he of cereal notoriety, who patented a process of preparing nut meal in 1895. He actually served an early form of peanut butter to his patients. A man named Joseph Lambert created a hand-operated peanut grinder to make peanut butter in 1896; his wife, Almeeta, published the first nut cookbook, called The Complete Guide to Nut Cookery, in 1899.

Then came 1903 when another doctor, this one named Ambrose Straub, patented a peanut-butter making machine so that he could serve protein to his toothless and elderly patients. Life as we know it has never been the same, even for we who are still blessed with a full set of teeth.

Fast-forward all the way to 1922 when Joseph Rosefield fixed peanut butter’s tendency to separate by adding hydrogenated vegetable oil. He called his new creamy consistency Skippy.

Creamy Jif debuted in 1958, complete with a mascot named Jifaroo, a blue kangaroo. I don’t know why I’m so partial to Jif. Maybe it’s because of the ‘choosy mothers choose Jif’ tagline. I doubt it. I think it’s the corn syrup, soy protein, molasses, and the always tasty copper sulfate. There are 190 calories in 2 tablespoons.

Jif makes 250,000 jars of peanut butter a day. It takes 540 peanuts to fill one 12-ounce jar. According to estimates, kids eat at least 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during their time in school. I think that sounds low. There is some anecdotal evidence that says a teaspoon of peanut butter can cure the hiccups. I’m skeptical, though I can see how just the sheer force of trying to lick peanut butter off of a spoon can refocus your focus away from hiccups and thus cure them. I’ve heard tell of peanut butter being able to intervene in all manner of conflicts, including bickering children and warring countries. The jury is still out.

What I do know is that peanut butter makes me smile. As if to prove my point, my husband is snapping off pieces of celery and crunching happily. I can hear the chew all the way upstairs. I smile, too.

And then get up and walk downstairs because while peanut butter is not the meaning of life, it is the meaning of this very nutty afternoon and this equally nutty blog post.  

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live out loud

Que syrah syrah

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 19, 2012 6:53 PM

Our syrah grapes are five days old today. We thought about celebrating by sticking five lit candles into the cap that has formed atop the fermentation but decided it was probably not a good idea. As wonderful and strong as the grapes appear to be, we doubted seriously they could blow out their own candles. Instead we stood quietly and thought the tune “Happy Birthday to you,” or at least I did.

Five days ago, our grapes were clusters on stems, ripe, round, small and firm. They had a sweet taste with just the slightest hint of attitude. After the stems were removed and the grapes were crushed, their color was more angry. Still deeply purplish blue but with strong hints of magenta.

We brought them home from the crush and wrapped them in their new onesie, an old bed sheet cut into a nice neat square that fit over the top of the fermenter, put them to bed next to the Range Rover, turned off the light and let them sleep. On Monday, the fun began. We added the yeast and suddenly, these babies were having a party. Snapping, crackling, popping and physically trying to separate themselves, with the juice pushed down and the skins rising to the top to form a cap. Each day, we’ve dutifully taken their temperature. They’re not sick, but they do tend to get feverish when fermenting. We did our best to keep them around 75º. The two nights when they threatened to get warmer and topped 80º, we dropped a couple of frozen bottles of water through the cap to great fanfare. It was like a miniature wine bomb. But in the morning, the temps had returned to normal.


Que Syrah Syrah, oil on canvas, by Jennifer Evenhus

 

Each day we punched down the cap, pushing the 3 to 4 inches of grape skins back down into the juice, forcing them to play together. We did this about five times a day.

We also read the sugar content. On Monday, it started at 24.5 and the goal was to get it to drop to 0. When it reached 0, the fermenting process was essentially over and it was time to get schooled, or at least pressed. Today, after five days of rocking, rolling and snarling in the garage, it has calmed down. It’s so quiet it’s almost eerie. The cap is less now than it was, and not as heavy. It’s as if it has finally been tamed. It’s ready to make another drive so that we can feed the skins through a wine press to squeeze out the last bit of juice. Then, we start the rest of the process. Racking to clarify, testing pH levels and finally aging.

The next week or so will be fairly mellow, at least compared to the last five days.

And then, syrah’s baby brother arrives in the form of cabernet sauvignon and the late nights, the not wanting to sleep, the rising temperatures, the purple cradle cap will appear again and we will react accordingly.

But that’s next week. Today is all about the five-day birthday of our syrah grapes – I feel like they should have a name, something macho but with a tender side, like Butch. We’re very proud of all they’ve accomplished this week. Soon they’ll begin to age and grow into the fine wine we know, and hope, they can be. We’ll be with them every step of the way, listening when they need listening to, taking charge when authority is needed, keeping them on the path to grapeness. It’s their destiny, it’s what will be.  It’s the journey to maturity, shown in a clear, deep, inky syrah wine known to family and friends as Butch, from Michel Cellars.

Where whatever will be, will be wine. 

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live out loud

From the shores of Lake Erie

by Lorin Michel Thursday, October 18, 2012 10:10 PM

Our son, Justin, is in school in New York, at State University New York Fredonia, studying theater production with an emphasis in lighting design and electricity. He’s a senior this year but will graduate in December of 2013 because he transferred and in order to obtain the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree he is working toward, SUNY requires two years from transfers.

We don’t talk to him very often. Over the course of the last two years, he has gotten progressively busier. It started when he got his first summer internship at a theater out on Long Island right after his sophomore year. He was in Tucson at the time. The internship went so well that he was able to go back for the holiday season last December and again for this past summer. Once he also made the decision to transfer to New York because the program was superior to that at the University of Arizona and started last January, we also aren’t able to see him as often. It’s simply too far. In fact, we haven’t seen him since March and even then it was with his girlfriend. We haven’t had good quality Justin time since … well, I don’t know how long.

We miss him but we understand how busy the schedules of college students are and especially college students studying theater. I have no doubt that my parents never heard from me when I was in college and working, and I was only about an hour and a half away. Of course, I was in school in the relative dark ages, in the 1980s, when there weren’t such modern conveniences as telephones. We had to trudge through piled snowdrifts without shoes to get to class; there was no way we could get home to see the parents.

Luckily times have progressed. Not only are there computers with skype and email, but there are cell phones with texting capabilities. It is virtually impossible to not stay in touch with your parents in this day and age, though Justin does a fairly admirable job. This is not complaining. I’m not feeling sorry for us. I’m simply stating a fact. We don’t have a lot of communication even with all of the communication tools at our disposal, largely because of his schedule. He’s a full time theater student, which means lots of classes, both in his chosen major and general education, and he’s also readying a show for production. It’s currently Chicago, and it opens tonight.

Which is why we heard from him this afternoon. There’s nothing more he can do; the show is ready to go. He just has to be there tonight when the curtain goes up. So he had time to call and chat with the parental units.

Justin and mom, at Disneyland, 1996

We were just getting back from our walk at lunchtime when Kevin’s cell phone rang. He didn’t have his glasses so he couldn’t read the name on the display. He handed it to me because he knew I could. It read: Call from Justin’s cell.

Yea!

We all talked for a half hour or so, about what’s going on with school and classes, about the production, about him needing a raincoat. As if on cue, a howling wind blew through the phone connection and he told us to hold on. Then he started to laugh. “There’s a storm blowing in off the lake,” he said. “It’s cold and blustery, and it’s gonna freakin’ pour.” And then he laughed again, that deep blustery laugh of his that we could feel deep in our soul, even over a cell phone speaker, over more than 2500 miles.  We could see his smile, his dark brown eyes, his rich auburn hair that’s probably just a little too long and curling at the collar. We could feel his presence.

We miss our boy and the man he has become. He’ll be home for Thanksgiving and maybe even this year for Christmas, and all three of us are looking forward to it.

We are officially parents whose kid has left the nest, and we’re OK with that, because he’s happy, he’s healthy and he’s living his life out loud. It’s as it should be. 

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live out loud

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