C-dawg, Street Thug

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 27, 2013 6:40 PM

Our Coopertino has been with us for three months now. It was official yesterday, and I thought I’d entertain everyone with an update on him and his training. First, he’s cute as can be. He’s just a big love bug in the house. He loves to be with us, he listens. He sits on cue and shakes when asked. He’s gentle when he takes a cookie as long as we preface said taking with the word “easy” spoken in a stearn, non-easy way.

He has become a real toy dog. Wherever he is, he must have at least one if not three toys with him. In the mornings, after we walk and he chomps through breakfast while I slurp through coffee, and we head up to work – that’s code for my office – he grabs Wubba and I grab my computer, any paperwork I’ve brought downstairs to keep me occupied the night before, my glasses and my iPhone and we climb the stairs together. Wubba is his best good friend and the only one, thus far, who has not met the wrath of the teeth.

At night, when it’s time to come downstairs and pretend to have a life (which is just me transferring my computer to the living room), he again picks up Wubba and trots down the stairs, Wubba swinging from side to side. Wubba sleeps with him as well. All we need to do at night, after he has gone out back for the last break before morning, is say: “Get Wubba and get in your house.” He picks up that straggly brown tennis ball dressed like a bear with five octopus legs, trots into the bedroom and directly into his kennel. He lays Wubba down on the side, and then lays down next to him to sleep. It’s adorable.

As I said, he’s so good in the house that I just want to hug and kiss and squeeze on him all the time.

But then comes the dreaded outside and his two walks a day. Perhaps dreaded is too strong a word. Perhaps I should say the slightly scary outside, or the uh-oh-it’s-time-to-go outside. Cooper, as I think I’ve mentioned, is a bit dog aggressive and quite the leash puller. Even though we’ve been using a pinch collar, it has not worked as well as we’d like to curb his bad habits. We had basically decided we had the only dog on the planet that didn’t respond to the pinch. We had the devil in red fur, Cujo in a smaller outfit, Dr. Jekel and Mr. Wild; C-Dawg, Street Thug.


C-Dawg and the ever-present Wubba

We had resigned ourselves to the idea that walking him was never going to be fun. That we were going to grow to truly despise the twice-daily walks around the hood with our little bully. Because you see, as lovable as my boy is in the house, he has been a canine monster outside. Every dog we see is an opportunity to tug and pull and lunge, to huff and puff and threaten, to talk smack, to bully. Hence his new street name C-Dawg. We figured we’d get him some additional bling, put a sideways baseball cap on him and get him to wear his pants really low. He can strut around the ‘hood causing other dogs to quiver and quake in his presence.

And then we remembered that as humans, we are supposed to possess the superior intellect. We have bigger brains. He is the dog. He has been here three months. We have been here for a whole lot longer. We needed to be smarter. So we went to the intertubes to see what we could find and wouldn’t you know, we’ve been doing the collar wrong.

Tonight when we took C-Dawg for a walk, we adjusted the collar so that we were using it correctly. He was nearly a different dawg. Oh, he pulled a bit but he seemed to learn quickly that pulling is not advantageous to enjoyment. We saw some other dogs and he huffed and puffed but it wasn’t nearly the terror filled exchange we have come to expect. Yes, one walk does not a changed dog make, but we’re hopeful that the big brains have prevailed, that the tubes have once again come to our rescue and that C-Dawg Street Thug will soon be just c-dog street hug.

Hey, a mom can dream, can’t she? 

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The one where we have to find a can

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 26, 2013 10:25 PM

For Christmas last year, which was only a month ago, my husband gave me a pizzelle iron. I’ve written before of my love for the Italian waffle cookies, a love that started when I was a kid. I’m sure my grandmother made them, though I don’t remember her sitting in front of the stove. I do have fond memories of my mother doing just that, with her hand-held iron that made one pizzelle at a time. It would take her hours but it was worth it, at least for those of us not doing the ironing.

Flash forward some 40 years and there, under the tree, was a Cuisinart pizzelle iron. It’s electric, so right away I knew it would be easier than what my mother used. It also cooks two at once, which I figured would cut down on the time needed to bake. I hadn’t used it yet; hadn’t even taken it out of the box, at least not until this morning.

I’ve been planning to try my pizzelle skills for weeks now. I had looked at the recipe that came in the box. Pretty straight forward. I made sure we had all of the ingredients. Even bought unsalted butter about three weeks ago. But each weekend would come and go and no pizzelles would be made. I don’t know what was holding me back except that I had visions of pizzelle-making taking all day long. See above comment about my mother.

Today, we took Cooper for a nice long walk and then settled into the kitchen for some coffee. I fed his dogness while Kevin poured some java and sat down at the table to peruse the paper. Suddenly I had a thought. I believe it went something like this: Hmmmm. I don’t want to read the paper because I’m tired of the news. Hey! Maybe I’ll finally make pizzelles!

“I think I’m going to make pizzelles,” I said out loud. Kevin nodded and proceeded to read me an article about LA mayor Villaraigosa and his plan to make bicycle lanes more prevalent and more safe.

I pulled the box out of the pantry, took out the iron, and the recipe. Full disclosure: I was supposed to ask my mother for her recipe but I kept forgetting. I figured they must be similar. I read it a couple of times and started getting out everything I was going to need. Eggs, butter, flour, baking powder, sugar, pure Anise; bowls; measuring cups and spoons; the electric mixer. For someone who doesn’t bake, I’m always kind of amazed that I have all of the accoutrements, like an electric mixer. I have no idea where it came from.

A very short time later, I had batter. I plugged in the iron and waited for it to heat up. And then, I had my first two cookies. I couldn’t believe how quickly they cooked, or how quickly I went through the entire bowl of batter. I started at 11:20 and was completely finished and cleaned up by noon. Not at all what I remember from when I was young.

So there I was, standing in the kitchen, staring at my two nice neat stacks of near perfect pizzelles, and I hear my mother’s voice: “You can’t store pizzelles in Tupperware or any kind of plastic including plastic bags because they get soft. And pizzelles should never ever be soft. They should be crisp. They should snap.”

Me: “Well, what do I put them in?”

Mom’s voice: “You need a coffee can.”

Me: “But I don’t buy coffee in a can. I buy it in bags and we grind our own.”

Mom’s voice: “Well, you must have some sort of popcorn tin around, from a Christmas gift.”

Me: “We do, but I keep the dog’s food in it.”

Mom’s voice, now exasperated at having this imaginary conversation: “How about a tin that other cookies came in?”

I turned to Kevin, who was happily munching on his fifth cookie: “Do we have a cookie tin? My mom says we need a tin.”

Kevin: “When the hell did you talk to your mother?”

Me: “Never mind. We need a tin.” And then I explained why and that we didn’t want soggy pizzelles and he agreed so we started looking through the cabinets. Actually he started looking through the cabinets while I poured a cup of coffee. After all, I had just finished slaving over a hot pizzelle iron. I needed a break.

Within seconds my wondrous husband had produced … a cookie tin. Something I didn’t even know we had so of course I had to ask: “Where did you find THAT?!”  And he smiled and reached for another cookie and told me that he couldn’t tell me or else he’d have to kill me and then he’d have to make his own pizzelles and to be quiet and just load up the can already.

Just like that we had both pizzelles and a proper storage facility for them. Life is good on a Saturday in Michel-land.

The simple joy of a squeaky clean car

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 20, 2013 9:34 PM

I am a car snob. I am also a hotel snob, but for purposes of this post, let’s stick to the four wheels rather than the four-stars. My cars don’t have to be new, and in most cases, I don’t want them to be. I have had mostly used, or pre-owned, cars in my driving history and I’m just fine with that. They’re a better value and if you have the time to search, you can find just what you want.

I’ve had Porsches and Toyotas, Mazdas, BMWs and Land Rovers. Out of all of those, three were new: a Mazda MX-6, a BMW 330i and a Land Rover Discovery Series II. I’ve had two used Porsches (both 944s, one Before Kevin, one with), two used Toyotas (one BK, one with), one used Mazda (my beloved RX-7), two used BMWs (both with Kevin) and two used Land Rovers (our first Range Rover and our current one).

A good used car can be cosmetically and mechanically excellent. The key, then, is keeping it that way. Obviously we make sure the oil is changed. If there is ever any kind of issue, we immediately have it checked out. Both of our cars are garaged (as is the motorcycle), and we keep both as clean inside and out as possible. We take great care in vacuuming as well as washing. We always do it ourselves for two reasons: 1) we do a better job; and 2) we do a better job.

Some of the car washes around here are fine, but we’ve found that mass car washing places tend to lead to things not getting as clean as we’d like, like the wheels. Yes, if you look up anal-retentive-when-it-comes-to-their-cars in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Kevin and I. It’s actually a really nice pic . Too much brake-dust doesn’t get washed away. And too much water remains either on the car or in the various crevices of the metal or fiberglass which leads to water spots. Maybe this is a California problem, because of the near-constant warmth of the sun, but water spots on an otherwise clean car makes the car look less clean.

The Porsche is having some health issues so it doesn’t get driven very much. Around the block every week or so just to keep it running. Thus, it remains clean. Occasionally we dust it. The Range Rover, the workhorse, gets all the heavy lifting. It hadn’t been washed since sometime before Christmas. Since then it made several trips back and forth to the airport, went to several holiday parties and a wine tasting trip north of Santa Barbara, not to mention meetings and just general living trips like to the grocery store. It was rained on, sat out in near freezing temperatures, and had countless bugs commit suicide on its windshield.

It was dirty.

Actually, it was filthy. The beautiful powder-coated chrome wheels were black with dust that had also been kicked up onto the paint. The finish was both dusty and water-stained. The cover over the headlights was also dusty, watermarked and sporting the remains of bugs. We don’t normally let the car get that bad. Last summer when we drove to Tucson and got caught in a thunderstorm, we washed the car while on vacation. But it has been so cold, and the idea of being wet outside, with cold spraying water just wasn’t appealing. Then came yesterday.

The day was in the high 70s; a gentle breeze was blowing. We backed the car out into the driveway, brought Cooper out and hooked him to the tree so he could be with us, then set about our task. We vacuumed, we windexed, we dusted. Then we moved to the outside. First the wheels, then the rest of the car. Soap and spray, soap and spray, climb up on a ladder to do the top. Once it was clean and rinsed, Kevin pulled out the leaf blower, plugged it in and essentially gave the car a nice blow dry, put a little finish of Armor-all on the trim and it was pretty as new.

It took two hours. I can wash, blow dry and finish in 30 minutes. I guess the Rover has more hair.

We put its shiny self in the garage and closed the door. Ever since and every once in a while, we open the door that leads out to the garage, turn on the light and admire our work as the paint glistens under the electric sun. There’s something to be said for physical exertion that leads to the completion of a task. It can be easier than mental exertion. Perfect for a sunny weekend day.

It’s simple things like washing the car that can bring abundant amounts of joy. My husband calls them ergs of pleasure. I call it living out loud.

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Let's go

by Lorin Michel Monday, January 14, 2013 8:58 PM

Somehow our walk-talk today turned to roller coasters. Kevin was recounting a story of taking his elderly parents to Disneyland when Justin was but a baby. His dad, Tom, had already had at least one heart attack, but after six bypasses, he was healthier than he’d been in a while. He was walking daily and eating better. Kevin asked him about riding the roller coaster, something Tom had always liked to do and Tom said he wanted to do it. They got in line for the Big Thunder Mountain Railway. As they got closer to getting on the ride, there was a sign: If you have a heart condition, you may want to reconsider. Kevin asked again: “Dad? You sure? We can exit right through that door.” Tom shook his head and grinned. “Let’s go!”

That’s how I’ve always felt about roller coasters. From the time I was little, and we would visit Kennywood Park in Pennsylvania, somewhere near Pittsburgh, I was ready to go. I loved the lurching motion, the slow mechanical climb toward the sky, the anticipation when the cars in front started to roll over to the other side and could no longer be seen. And the rapid descent that pulled my stomach into my throat even as I screamed gleefully and involuntarily, my hair being whipped around in a frenzy, my heart pounding. For a moment I was weightless, exhilarated. I’d catch my breath just long enough to begin the next mechanical climb and the next dash toward the earth until finally, the train of cars would pull back onto the platform and everyone would exit on the right side of the car while those waiting in line entered on the left side. Let’s go. Let’s go again.


Thompson's 1884 Switchback at Coney Island

Roller coasters are descended from something called Russian Mountains, specially constructed hills of ice around Saint Petersburg. They were built in the 1400s and 1500s, when slides became very popular with Russia’s upper class. Catherine II of Russia was such a fan that she had several built on her property. They appear to have been little more than toboggan hills.

Many historians say the first roller coasters, with wheels on the sleds or carts, were built in 1784 by order of James the III in the Gardens of Oreinbaum, also in Saint Petersburg. Others believe the first roller coasters were French as Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville and the Promenades Aeriennes both featured wheeled cars securely locked to a track, with guide rails to keep them on course, and to keep them careening off into wherever when the carts reached higher speeds. That was in 1812.

Today’s modern roller coasters owe their heritage to John G. Taylor of Baltimore who was issued the first patent for a switchback coaster, constructed at West Haven’s Savin Rock. The year was 1872. LaMarcus Thompson built a switchback railway at Coney Island in 1884, and became known as the father of the roller coast, not because he was the first to build one but because he was the first to promote one. Passengers from all over traveled to Coney Island in order to climb up a platform and ride a car down 600 feet of track. The speed carried them up to the top of another platform where the track was switched and the passengers took a return trip back to the original platform.


The Thunderbolt at Kennywood

In 1885, Phillip Hinkle introduced a complete circuit coaster with a lift hill and it became more popular than Thompson’s coaster. Both were at Coney Island. In 1886, Thompson patented a design to use dark tunnels with painted scenery, and “scenic railways” were soon found in amusement parks across the country.

Of course, the first official scenic railway actually happened in 1850, when the Mauch Chunk railroad was built. It was a downhill track used to deliver coal to what is now known as Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, but by 1872, thrill seekers were shelling out $.50 per ride.

The 1880s saw the introduction of the vertical loop and by 1895, The Flip Flap, at Sea Lion Park in Brooklyn, debuted, followed shortly thereafter by Loop-the-Loop at Olentangy Park in Ohio. The rides were dangerous, passengers suffered whiplash and loops were discontinued for decades.

The oldest operating roller coaster is Leap-the-Dips at Lakemont Park in Pennsylvania. It originally opened in 1902. The best-known historical roller coaster is probably The Cyclone, which opened at Coney Island in 1927. It was made of wood and is still operational, though it has been updated and upgraded. Many old wooden roller coasters are also still operational including the ones I rode at Kennywood when I was a kid. These were all ushered in during the first golden age of roller coasters, an age that ended during the Depression. But in 1972, The Racer was built at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio and the second golden age of coasters began. It continues to this day.

The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Space Mountain, all at Disneyland, are but three of the hundreds of roller coasters that can be found all around the world. Some are old, some are very modern, some I would ride in a minute, others I have no desire to board. Part of the thrill of the roller coasters of old was the simplicity of them, and the sheer joy of racing forward at what seemed to be phenomenal speeds. In actuality it was around 30 some miles per hour but the ride was always an adventure no matter how many times I went. This was the feeling that Kevin and his dad experienced so many years ago. It’s a feeling that says let’s have fun, let’s not look back, let’s go.

Perhaps, then, the roller coaster is just a great metaphor for living it out loud. 

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The zen of sit: Observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 5, 2013 8:31 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here and I’m a little dizzy. It seems that things are moving very fast around here lately and it’s enough to make a squirrel’s head spin. First there was all that celebrating that went on, with too many cars and an awful lot of people. I stayed hidden for days; it was just too scary to be out there where I could go splat and you all know how Mrs. Squirrel feels about splat. I don’t feel much better about it to tell you the truth.

There were lots of lights everywhere, too. Little lights and bigger lights and some lights that were in the shape of big animals. Those scared me at first because I didn’t quite know what to make of them. It was like there was suddenly a big twinkling deer in the neighbor’s yard only it didn’t smell like what I think a deer probably smells like. Also, it never moved.

Then there were these really big shapes that swayed in the night air. During the day they were just collapsed on the grass in a mostly white heap. It looked kind of like snow only it wasn’t. Of course, a couple of nights it was cold enough to snow. Me and Mrs. Squirrel had to huddle up real close in order to keep warm. I like huddling. Not sure the missus likes it quite as much but she was a good sport.

I sat on the grass one morning, in front of one of these collapsed things and tried to talk to it. It had been so big and sort of scary the night before, but then it looked like it got attacked or something. I wanted to know what had happened so I could be on the lookout for whatever or whoever it was. I figured if it could get to something that big, it could for sure get to something small like me. But I couldn’t get that blobby white thing to talk to me so after a few barks I gave up and started back toward the house.

That’s when the red blur came by. He spotted me and immediately he lunged and growled and barked at me, too. I went half way up the tree in the front yard since he kind of startled me and then I hung there, upside down, just looking at him. He pranced and danced and then he stopped and he stood frozen, his ears forward, his body tense. He has good form, this red knight-to-be, and he’s handsome, too. Not as handsome as the first knight, my best knight. No one will ever been that handsome, but this red furred one is a good-looking dude. He’s a little wild still. As if to prove that, Hey Kevin who was with the red furred one said “Cooper, zen.” I think he followed it up with a dammit and I chuckled. It’s hard to train a new knight. I know that better than just about any squirrel.

“Hey Kevin?” I asked, safely on the tree.

“Oh, Hey Squire,” he said followed by “Sit!”

I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean me.

“What’s up with the zen?” I asked.

“Well, he’s a nut and I thought that if we could get him to understand the idea of zen then our walks wouldn’t be quite so, well, crazy.”

I thought about that for a couple of seconds, then I turned my eye toward the one they call Cooper. He was eyeing me, too. But he was sitting. He was calm even though all of his fur seemed to be electrified. If I so much as moved a whisker, I knew he’d spring forward. So zen must mean sit. Good to know.

Cause I’ve got some work to do with this one.

The isle of Oak Park

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 21, 2012 8:32 PM

People speak of the glowing green hills of Ireland in hushed tones. I haven’t been lucky enough to visit the place called the Emerald Isle but everyone I know who has says the same thing. It is stunning. Awe-inspiring. Pick-your-jaw-up-off-the-ground beautiful. Rolling and lush grasses, waving in the gentle ocean breeze, the sea snarling into the rocks below. Sheep grazing on the hillsides; castles dotting the cliffs and tucked into the crevices of the valleys. Lads sidled up to the bars in the pubs, raising a pint of Guinness or Smithwick’s, dogs lazing at their feet lapping up the spillage. Sun glinting off this mystical land.

Today was sunny here in Oak Park, the first such day in quite some time. We’ve had rain it seems for weeks, and if not rain, heavy clouds and heavier air, the threat of moisture thick. The temperatures have been cold as well. The nights get into the low 30s, the mornings stay there. We’ve walked Cooper this week early and it has been 32º, 34º, 36º. The grass on the lawns is covered with frost, ditto the fallen leaves and branches, the pinecones and needles crunch. The puddles aren’t frozen but they’re cold; the moss on the sidewalks is slick as ice. It’s a little like New England with palm trees. We bundle up with heavy coats and gloves and off we go.

The temperature at lunch today was around 50º so it was nearly balmy. It’s not going to last. Weather is coming in tomorrow with rain promised for tomorrow night, Sunday and Monday, partly cloudy on Christmas and then more rain immediately following with high temperatures at 57º during the day, 30º at night. We decided to take advantage of the relative warmth and set off on a walk. Soon enough we were quite toasty. Up the Bowfield hill we trudged, cresting the top and marveling at the sun and the lack of wind. The air still had a hint of cool but the sun was warm and lovely and as we started down the other side, toward Rockfield, I happened to notice one of the many hiking pathways that lead up into the canyon foothills. During the summer, these pathways are dusty, the foliage brown and dry. Rattlesnakes curl up on the edges; sometimes they stretch across sunning themselves. In the winter, they’re hibernating in a hole somewhere. And the paths are lush with a near phosphorescent green grass, the kind of grass that grows spontaneously after a long hot summer when the ground is suddenly and completely saturated with water.

The sun was streaming down from a near cloudless sky. In the distance wisps of rain were beginning to gather, thin and harmless, at least today. The brush and bushes were still; birds hung in the trees chirping. I stopped and for just a minute, I had a fleeting glimpse of Ireland. In my imagination, in the stories I’ve heard, I knew that this is how beautiful that land must be.

It’s the Winter Solstice. In Ireland people gather at the ancient site of Newgrange, a rock formation whose rooftop opening allows sunlight to penetrate the passage and chamber beneath as the sun rises on each Winter Solstice. At approximately 9 am on the morning of the solstice, a narrow beam of light filters through to the floor and gradually extends toward the back. As the sun continues to rise, the beam widens to illuminate the chamber. For 17 minutes, this light warms the earth and proclaims the arrival of winter. Built over 5000 years ago, Newgrange remains one of the most prolific and gorgeous places on earth to feel the power of the sun, and of this new season.

We’re far, so far from Newgrange here in Southern California. There are many places of great beauty but none so exquisite, perhaps because of the mysticism surrounding Ireland and the Celtic legends, perhaps because it is simply from another time and so much of what we have here is from this time, this now.

On this Winter Solstice, I’m celebrating a beauty I didn’t see but also one that I did. It filled me with a sense of wonder. Something to be grateful for, to embrace during a season that has been filled with stress and angst and indecision. The sunlight on the isle of Oak Park made me happy, put me in a festive mood, and allowed me to celebrate this 21st of December in emerald isle style.

The allure and wonder of children's books

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 18, 2012 10:36 PM

I discovered children’s books at a relatively late stage in development. I think I was about 35. I’m not sure what finally made me realize how wonderful and insightful they can be, but I distinctly remember one Christmas when I decided that what I was going to get all of my clients was a children’s book that had something to do with either what they did or how they lived their lives. I went to Barnes & Noble and settled into the children’s section in the back of the store. I knew I was going to be there for a long time and I was right. I had at least 15 people I was buying for; that meant 15 different books.

I sat on the floor for hours, studying titles, admiring illustrations, reading the stories. I had three piles. One for absolutely positively. One for maybe we’ll see. The third for no way no how. The third pile consisted of books that were mostly too literal and too childish. I know it’s odd to think about since children’s books, by nature and title, should be somewhat childish. But many are quite profound. Many are perfect for adults. Though most are more of the Goodnight Moon variety and definitely for someone who’s 3 and not 30.

I found some wonderful books by Jamie Lee Curtis, some by authors I didn’t recognize. Many of those I chose had watercolor painting illustrations. I gathered up books on color, on questions, on love, on ideas, on creativity, on sharing. Some I bought were Caldecott winners; most were not. I wasn’t looking for award winners; I was simply looking for books that touched me, that talked to me, that rang true.

From Zen Shorts, by Jon Muth

The thing about children’s books is that most do ring true. You can’t be false with children, or at least, you shouldn’t be. You should be straightforward and lyrical, fun but not afraid to be somber, honest and real. Children have a unique way of knowing when something is false. It’s what I admire most about children. It’s what I love about them. Their truth, their forthrightness, their ability to see things for what they are as opposed to what they wish they would be. That kind of cynicism comes later but not much later. It begins before they’re 10, on average, and continues to grow, unabated, until children become adolescents become adults become children again.

Perhaps that’s what I like most about children’s books. They are cyclical. We all start out helpless; we all end that way as well, at least to an extent. It’s the cycle of life. The best children’s books have something to do with that cycle in some way or another.

When Bobbi graduated from Pepperdine University a few years ago, with her Master’s Degree in Psychology, I knew exactly what I was buying for her graduation gift. There was a party for the graduates and their families at a restaurant not far from here. Pepperdine is on the cliffs above Malibu, also not far from here. The restaurant is called Zin Bistro. Bobbi’s parents were in town for the big event. It was a small gathering, and we weren’t going, but we still wanted to be there. I went to my favorite children’s section in my favorite Barnes & Noble, sat on the floor and went through dozens of books. I couldn’t find one that rang true, though I found many that were lovely. I was about to give up. My mind had already started thinking about what else I could do. I started to panic, quietly. When I’ve decided that I know what I want to do and can’t find what I need, I get antsy; I get manic. I got up from the floor, I stood in front of the hardcover section, I turned around to face away from the books and then turned back. Something inside me whispered “it’s there, right in front of you.” This has only happened once or twice before, where I just get a feeling and know that I’m about to find what I’m looking for. The other time was when I wanted to find a 1961 Pebbles Flintstone doll for my sister at a swap meet. In the last row, near the last booth, there she was, waiting for me on a folding card table.

I reached out my hand and pulled Zen Shorts from the shelf. It was perfect. Bobbi loves Buddhism, her online name is zenspeed, The story is simple. A panda named Stillwater befriends three kids and teaches each valuable lessons to help them handle the events in their lives. He uses classic Zen teachings to challenge perspective on our own lives through emotions like anger, worrying and jealousy.   

Like I said, perfect. I bought it, wrapped it, and dropped it off at Zin Bistro before the party.

Maybe it’s because of the holiday, maybe it’s because of the horror in Newtown, but I find myself drawn to children’s books again this day. I find myself celebrating their wonder, their joy, their purity of spirit. There is no better way to live it out loud than through the truth of a simple, profound and simply profound tale.                              

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I'm an addict

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 16, 2012 10:13 PM

As a writer I love books. My house is full of them, with hundreds in my office alone filling two bookshelves, and stacked in nearly every corner. I have additional ones stacked on the desk. Downstairs I have 11 on the coffee table in the living room and another 20 or so stacked up next to the antique music stand. Most of those are books about different types of architecture or wine. There is the biography of Steve Jobs and several books on antique toys; one on a round-the-world motorcycle trip taken by the actor Ewan McGregor; another called Full Moon. On a chair is a book on the art of Vladimir Kush, one of our favorite surrealistic painters. On an ottoman there is a book on wizards.

The bedroom sports a stack of books in the space between my side of the bed and my nightstand; more still on the shelf of our credenza/dresser. In the kitchen there are multiple cookbooks as there are in many kitchens. There are 10 to the right of the cooktop; in the cabinet above, another 10. In the drawer next to the sink, another five or six, mostly paperbacks that I rarely use unless I need a temperature for cooking something like a roast. I rarely cook roast.

There are books in the garage, mostly auto repair and about different tools; tiling and painting.

Kevin’s office also boasts dozens of books, many stacked up in the corner near his desk, some under the credenza, others on a book shelf.  Like me, he still has at least one dictionary and thesaurus; like me he never uses them, but neither one of us can bring it upon ourselves to throw them away. Throwing away books is sacrilege, especially to a writer. Or a writer’s husband.

I have probably said this before but I am physically incapable of not having too many books. Is there such a thing as too many? I buy books on Amazon at an alarming rate. Many remain unread for years but it doesn’t stop me from buying them anyway. Some I start to read but don’t get very far. At any given time, I may have three or four books in progress. Sometimes it’s because I don’t really like them; sometimes it’s because I like them but don’t love them enough to devour them. And I can devour a book in one setting if it grabs me. This happens often with any Alice Hoffman book; it happened with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I literally can’t put the book(s) down for fear of not knowing what is going to happen. Then, at the end, while I’m sorry to bid farewell to characters I’ve come to know and sometimes love, I usually feel a sense of deep satisfaction. It’s similar to seeing a deeply effective film, something that doesn’t happen often enough. In fact, I’m not sure I can remember the last one I saw where I left the theatre thinking and feeling content, and wanting to talk about it. That’s, to me, the mark of a strong film. The last one Kevin and I talked about at length after seeing it may have been Cast Away.

I digress.

I can’t go into Barnes & Noble without leaving with a bag of books that cost a minimum of $100. It’s a sickness, an addiction. Hi, I’m Lorin and I’m a book addict. I have no intention of going into any kind of a 12-chapter program. I am perfectly happy to wallow in my addiction, to drown myself in pages and pages of words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters. I don’t want an intervention; I know it wouldn’t help because I’m not ready to surrender to the disease. It can’t hurt me; it can only expand my mind and fill my soul. It can’t destroy me; it can only make me stronger.

I am a book addict. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are a dozen or so books calling my name.

Oh

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 13, 2012 10:18 PM

I was reminded today of the extreme power that a small word can provide, and of the immense guilt or emotion it can cause in the recipient of said word. I speak of the word “oh.” We have long teased my mother that she can use this word better than anyone to convey an entire book of information. Whenever she has a visceral dislike of something, her immediate response is a patented “Oh,” with the ‘o’ very high and the ‘h’ as low as the ground. She also drags it out ever so slightly, like Ohhh. I have never met anyone that does the “Oh” better than my mother. She’ll often precede it with a brief pause, as if to inflict maximum angst in the recipient. She often follows it with another pause before an also patented nose wrinkle. She does it when she doesn’t like a particular clothing choice, or the color you’re painting your kitchen, or the car you’ve decided to buy.

The “Oh” has all the power of mom rolled into two letters. So does the word “No” if it’s done in much the same way with the “n” being a little higher and the “o” drawn out for maximum martyrdom. This was evidently something that Kevin’s mother mastered. An example: Mom, let me clean up the kitchen. “Noooo. I’LL do it.” Kevin uses this tactic on me quite often. It does not often work.

The smallest of words can deliver the biggest emotional bang. Take the word “fine.” It’s a word that any woman in a relationship has mastered. In fact, she probably mastered it in high school when dealing with parents that wouldn’t allow her to do everything in the world that she wanted to do simply because she wanted to. If you’re a woman, you remember. I want to drive to New York City with my friends for a rock concert. No. Fine!

Fine can actually be used two ways. It’s most potent is when it’s used to effectively end any conversation or argument. When used thus it is laced with hatred and bile. This is the kiss-my-ass fine that means the polar opposite of fine but signals there will be no more discussion. I.e. It isn’t fine and you suck.

The other fine is actually fine, as in oh-that’s-good. Whenever I hear “fine,” I almost always ask which fine it is, especially it not readily apparent. Which it usually is.

Another good word is “interesting” because it’s often used to signify something is anything but. It’s often said for something ugly. Men sometimes use it to describe a woman they don’t seem to find especially attractive. She’s “interesting.” My mother has used it along with “oh” when she really doesn’t like something. Well, it’s … interesting.

Still, “oh” remains my favorite probably because it comes from my mother.

Oh. (Is that what you’re wearing? This after you’ve spent an hour and a half in the bathroom getting dressed.)

Oh. (Are you really going to buy that? This after it’s already on the conveyor belt headed for the checker.)

Oh.

Really?

Well.

Fine.

OK.

When you can use one word to communicate a complete sentence, paragraph and page, you are very powerful indeed.

Yep.

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live out loud

Miss trees: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 1, 2012 6:51 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here. It’s another wet morning in Oak Park and wet rainy mornings always make me kind of lazy. I just want to stay in the den a little longer. This morning when I finally left, Mrs. Squirrel told me to be extra careful. The trees are a little more slick than when it’s dry and I could slide and fall off. She was right. I was flying down the side wall, scampering along at my usual pace. I could see Hey Lorin in the kitchen having some coffee. I got to the corner of the wall and jumped for the tree like usual. I almost didn’t make it. I went to grab the branch and my paws started to slide off. I finally caught one of the leaves and was able to pull myself up. Phew. That was a close one. I could have gone splat on the ground.

Once I got myself composed, I decided to just hole up for a little bit. I scrunched down in the space where the branch meets the tree. It wasn’t as wet and seemed wider. Plus it’s a really great space to watch what’s going on, and here’s what I saw. A tree, going in the house.

Naturally I was sort of curious. Trees aren’t usually in the house, but this one went right in through the garage. I left my safe, dry spot, carefully made my way back to the wall and ran to the back of the house. I went down one tree, snuck across the wet grass, and spun my way back up another tree. This one has the lowest branches in the yard and I could look inside. I found myself a dry spot under some big leaves, and hunkered down to watch.

Hey Lorin put the tree into a green thing on the floor. Then she got down on the floor, too, and had these screw things she was turning. The red-furred one they call Cooper was sitting on the rug, just watching. I could tell he didn’t quite understand why there was a tree in the house. His head was cocked to one side and his ears were really far forward. You could just see him trying to understand. He must not have ever had a tree in the other houses where he lived before he lived here with Hey Kevin and Hey Lorin.

Hey Lorin was talking to him, telling him what was going on. I couldn’t hear everything because the windows were closed because it’s kind of cold and rainy but I’m pretty sure she said it’s a miss tree. Hmmmm. I figured that was probably about right. A tree in the house would sure be missed by the outside trees. It’s also a miss because it doesn’t really belong in the house. I don’t think it’s a girl tree, though, so it’s not that kind of miss. Can trees be boys or girls? I’ll have to look that one up.

Anyway, the red-furred one kept sitting on the rug and watching and Hey Lorin started putting these long strings of things on the miss tree, wrapping them around. They were very bright, like a million tiny white lights. They were actually really pretty and I was pretty intrigued by it all. Then I heard a crash from the front of the house so I had to go investigate that.

Back down along the wall, but this time, I didn’t just jump onto the tree. I went down the front of the wall, and then up the tree and to the roof over the house so I could see what was happening. Hey Kevin was out there, on a ladder, hanging more tiny white lights on the front of the house. He wasn’t very happy about it either.

When he saw me, he nodded. Hey Squire.

Hey Kevin. What are you doing?

Hanging miss lights. That’s what he said.

I looked around the neighborhood and some of the other houses seemed to have these pretty little lights on their houses, too. I saw a car go by with a tree on top and I wondered if it was a miss tree, too, and if it was going in somebody else’s house. I didn’t recognize the car but I don’t know all the cars in the neighborhood, just the ones that try to run over me.

Miss lights and miss trees. Seems like there is an awful lot of miss happening around here. It’s kind of pretty. Maybe I’ll even get a miss tree for the den. Mrs. Squirrel would like that.

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