Every coat, jacket and zip-up hoodie I own has a plastic bag in the pocket and other observances from Wednesday

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, January 23, 2013 8:15 PM

One of the many joys that come from once again being owned by a dog is the constant presence of “the bag.” As in “do you have a bag?” A regular question Kevin and I ask each other each morning and evening. It usually happens as we’re putting on a coat, or a jacket, or a hoodie, like this morning. I was walking Cooper alone since Kevin was on deadline and I started by putting on my black jacket. But I wasn’t sure of the temperature even though the day was rather gloomy, and gloomy in January usually means cold. Zipping it up, I stepped out onto the back patio, hands in my pockets. An orange bag that once housed the Los Angeles Times filled the left one. The temp was warmer than I anticipated, so back inside I went, tossed the jacket and the bag onto the bed to hang up later, and reached into the closet for my new hoodie. I slipped it on, zipped it up and stuck my hands in the pockets. Yep. A bag. Actually two. Ready for anything that might befall us.

Here’s what else I know today: There are an awful lot of blue colors of cars out on the road. Powder blue, navy blue, flat blue, metallic blue, a periwinkle Mercedes, a slate blue Range Rover, a sky blue Camry. Some clean, some dirty, some new, others old. One with a smashed-in bumper; a Honda with new dealer tags.

When the sky is heavy with clouds, condensing the sound, and a jet flies over on its way to LAX, it rumbles like thunder.

A tuna melt is better on rye bread but it’s not horrible without bread as long as there are olives, onions, fresh celery and a bit of fresh jalapeno all chopped up finely, mixed with some mayo and topped with melted Havarti.

I miss potato chips as a side dish.

I wait for the mail to come every day and yet there’s rarely anything in it that’s worthwhile. Most of it seems to be solicitations for supporting a various cause, usually animal related. As much of a sucker as I am for helping animals, I simply don’t have the money to support all of them, and sometimes it seems as if all of them are asking.

I wish I could.

As much as I like doing things online, buying postage to send a publishing contract back to London is not one of them.

I miss having a big tub of Red Vines.

I don’t miss having a big tub of Red Vines because I can’t stop eating them.

Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day and so I’m going to make pasta for dinner. It’s not Prince sauce or spaghetti but the sentiment is the same, and hopefully the food will be even better. I could eat pasta every day of the week.

It is difficult for someone who has never had trouble with her weight to suddenly have trouble with her weight. I’m just saying.

I think Hillary Clinton is absolutely brilliant.

The lady who lives over on Evanswood who used to have a Bouvier des Flanders now has a Golden Doodle puppy named Victor Hugo and he looks like a big moppy bear rug but with infinitely more energy, very sharp puppy teeth and feet the size of coffee mugs.

I haven’t seen the Squire around lately and I’m starting to get worried.

Kevin’s debit card got hacked today and Bank of America caught it before we did. As bad as the banks can be, I’m happy they’ve all put mechanisms in place to catch this kind of stuff before it gets out of hand. Several years ago, he got torched for about $7000 and we were the ones who caught it, though the bank made good.

January is almost over. It’ll be Christmas soon.

Justin’s tuition is due. And ouch.

Argo was excellent.

My dog talks in his sleep. On a related note, I love the fact that the Earl on Downton Abbey has a dog and that the dog’s butt is the first thing we see on the opening credits. There must be a metaphor in there somewhere.

It’s supposed to rain this weekend.

There is a wine barrel in our entrance way. It does not yet have any wine inside.

I’m living it out loud. 

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live out loud

Panic at 3:54

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 15, 2013 8:40 PM

It doesn’t happen very often but every once in a while, in the middle of the night, I wake up badly. By badly I mean that I’m jolted awake, mostly by some unseen force buried deep within my brain. It has happened when the earth moves, too, of course, but the earth has not moved substantially here in quite some time (that sound you here is me and everyone else in California furiously knocking on any piece of wood within reach). Last night, I was in bed, minding my own business, all snug and warm under my multiple layers of blankets. I think I was dreaming. Then all of a sudden a very loud horn blared and I woke up with my heart pounding.

At first I thought it was in the house and I sat up straight, listening. We don’t have anything in the house that makes a blasting horn sound so the rational part of me knew that it probably hadn’t come from the house. Still, I was anxious. I glanced over at my nightstand clock. It was 3:54.

The room was inky black. I could hear Cooper huffing in his sleep and knew that soon his feet would start to race as he dreamt of whatever it is he dreams of when he sleeps. Kevin’s steady breathing came from the other side of the bed, juxtaposed with my now panicky breathing. Where had the sound come from?

As I seemed to be the only one awake and anxious, I quickly surmised that it was all in my head and that the horn had sounded in my dream, but why? It was as it my subconscious did it purposely, to wake me up so that I could be drenched in anxiety and fear of something that didn’t even exist.

I laid back down and pulled the covers up. It always amazes me how quickly I can become cold just by becoming conscious. I was very still, willing my body to rediscover the warmth that I’d had just moments before. I was also still listening for the horn. Even though I had pretty much decided I had either dreamt it or imagined it, I still thought I should err on the side of caution.

And as I was lying there, trying to alleviate the panic, trying to reassemble the warm, it happened. My brain caught fire and began to race around in my head in a desperate attempt to put itself out. This is a freak thing that occurs more often than I’d like and almost entirely when I’m stressed or worried or stressed and worried; when I have too much to do; when I’m hopelessly behind and have pressing deadlines that I can’t imagine I’ll meet; and when I purposely and purposefully didn’t do as much as I should have during the preceding day and know that I didn’t – knew it when I was actively not doing it – even try all that hard.


My heart began to race and I could feel the panic flooding through me anew. My on-fire brain was quickly darting from one project to another, and I knew that if I didn’t find a way to extinguish it, I would be up the rest of the night. That would render me virtually worthless during the day and I would have yet another work period where I was hopelessly unable to accomplish anything of substance.

I finally started to get warm again, probably because of my brain fire and all, but I knew if I didn’t get all of this stuff out of my head, I was doomed. Luckily, for Christmas, my son gave me a new handy, dandy light-up pen, specifically for panic attacks like this. I keep paper on my nightstand as well. I reached over, grabbed the pen, took a minute to remember how to turn on both the light and extract the ballpoint, and suddenly my entire side of the bed was bathed in white light. It was like ET had come to visit. In the process, he had practically blinded me.

After I screwed my pupils back into place and was able to see the paper, I began to scribble furiously, one thing after another, one reminder after the next, and as the list of things I needed to do when the sun came up, after I walked the dog and checked my three email boxes and my voice mails and my incoming text messages, took shape the fire in my brain started to burn out. Soon, I was simply burnt.

Now it was time to tackle the arduous task of talking myself back to sleep. Sometimes this works, often after I’ve dumped whatever is in my head out onto paper – I call this, appropriately, paper-training – but sometimes it doesn’t. I’m too far gone. But I was determined to talk myself into the fact that yes, I had a lot to do but no, doing it in my head over and over and over again at now 4:21 am wasn’t the best use of my time.

The last time I looked at the clock, it was 4:36. All in all, not a bad mid-night panic attack.

And by 9:15 this morning, I had already crossed four things off of my scribbled list. It’s amazing what you can do when you panic, when the senses are highly attuned, when every cell in your body is on alert. It’s called focus. And it can work, but only if you have a light-up pen from your kid.

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live out loud

Amid the morning chaos

by Lorin Michel Monday, January 7, 2013 10:21 PM

The last two weeks have been quiet around here, especially in the morning. All of the neighborhood kids, and there are quite a few, have been off school so the mornings have been devoid of the sound of wheeled back packs bouncing along the sidewalk as they and their owners trudge toward Red Oak Elementary at the bottom of Pesaro followed by parents anxious to drop them off so they can get back to work. For the two weeks containing Christmas and New Year’s, parents have been off work as well. Even people with dogs seemed to be running on a much later schedule. Each morning, we would get up at our usual time, around 7:30 ish, put on a bunch of clothing, leash up the dog and off we’d trudge, up and around the block for about a mile. We rarely saw a soul, human or canine.

Out on Kanan Road, which during the school year is positively teaming with cars racing up and down, dropping kids off at one school before racing to drop more kids at another school before turning and racing back up the street to turn at the light at Lindero Canyon so they can go to work, the noise is deafening. Except for the last two weeks.

We had gotten used to it, the quiet. The three of us would walk and Cooper would sniff. Occasionally we’d see another dog and he’d huff and puff a bit, but it was really just us. There weren’t even any cars. It was nice; it was also a little weird probably because we knew it would come to an end and very soon. We thought it would come to an end this morning. It did.

7:30. Up, dressed, leashed, out the door by 8. We loped down the street, the three of us, toward Hawthorne. We expected to see all kinds of dogs with their people, all manner of bogies to dodge. We didn’t see any. We didn’t even see kids pulling backpacks. We asked if maybe we had it wrong; maybe the kids were still off. Maybe they didn’t start back until Wednesday for whatever reason. Just then, a little girl dressed in blue jeans and a pink hoodie, pulling a pink backpack behind her came ‘round the corner from Savona on her way to school. Soon, we heard more voices, small crescendos of excitement and resignation, on their way. Some alone, some with other kids, some with their parents, all depending on their age.

We got to the corner of Hawthorne. Usually there are cars streaming up and down this street as well, on their way to or from Red Oak. We always cross at an angle – we call it Beverly Hills because Beverly Hills runs its street crossings diagonally – and it always takes a while to get an opening. Not today. We crossed, and started north. Still no dogs, no people. We turned right at Bowfield and walked toward the cul de sac at the top where there’s an opening in the stone wall that takes us out to Kanan.

Everything was quiet, the morning was soft. The sun was shining and the temperature was nearly 60º. Cooper was motoring along. We were looking forward to the coffee that was brewing and waiting for us when we got home.

As we walked out through the stone wall, the quiet dissipated. Kanan was roaring with traffic. The regular morning chaos had returned with a vengeance to officially kick off the New Year, a little late perhaps but given the way the calendar has fallen, perfectly logical. We didn’t talk any more; it was too noisy with all of the cars racing north and south, desperate to get to their destination, wherever it might be.

But amid the noise and the bustle, there was still a strange aura about the day. Cooper was paying absolutely no attention to the noise. He was giving us a lesson in how to find peace amid the morning chaos. Evidently it involves sniffing, licking the bushes, lifting your leg quite often and occasionally huffing at a bird or a squirrel. He was focused on the job at hand, or paw. He was out for a walk. It was his special time, and when he got home there would be breakfast followed by a nap.

If only our lives could be like that. I suspect there would be no chaos and living it out loud would be quieter.

Celebrating Monday morning in the OP. 

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live out loud

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.

In the love

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 31, 2012 8:30 PM

I’m not going to get all gooey and slobbery here, but somehow the topic of what love is came up today and it got me to thinking. Maybe it’s because it’s New Year’s Eve; maybe it’s because I’m feeling emotional, as I often do when the old year rolls so easily into the new. I’m always amazed that there isn’t more angst, more raging about how not enough has been accomplished and how it can’t be time to start another year. Not yet, not now. It’s not ready!

Oh, wait. Maybe that’s me who’s not quite ready to roll so easily into the new, especially because I have so many things unfinished from this current year. I could dig in my heels but I doubt it would do much good. Time will pull me, even if I’m kicking and screaming the whole time. There is no stopping it. Just like there is no stopping love.

See what I did there? I made a nice rounded-curve transition back to my topic at hand.

Love happens, often when we least expect it, almost always when we’re not looking for it. That’s what happened when I met the man who would become my first husband. I picked him up hitchhiking (which wasn’t that dangerous back then, and we were in a small town and the person I was with recognized him). I was 18 and he was tan. Funny how what you think love is when you’re 18 isn’t what love is at all.

It happened again when I met Kevin for a drink that one fateful March 22. I already knew him so love was the farthest thing from my mind. I remember well getting the phone call from Bobbi asking me what I thought of Kevin Michel. I believe my answer was “not much.” Ha. Little did I know that love would follow within a few short weeks. I rolled easily from being single into being “in a relationship,” and never looked back.

Love is realizing you’ve met the one person who truly gets you, who has a similar sense of humor and sarcasm. Love is what happens when you’re mature enough to realize what love is. 

Love is a beautiful puppy who gave himself the name Maguire when he put his tiny black nose into the center console of our car on the drive home from the shelter, and pulled out a dollar bill. I had never raised a dog before and this one changed my life. Love is discovering you’re a dog person.

Maguire broke our hearts when he died in March after he suffered massive and irreparable seizures. Love is having the strength to say good-bye.

Love is a red-headed step-son who has always been more of the latter and none of the former. It’s meeting a four-year old and helping raise him, going through the tough times of high school, and seeing him become a wonderful young man. Love is not labeling him anything but what he is: my kid.

Love is re-discovered friends who have grown along with you even if you haven’t seen them for decades. Love is knowing they were there, and finding out they still are.

Love is friendship that is easy and joyous, through laughter and tears and w(h)ine. It’s knowing that certain people are always always always your friend.

Love is my sister and her remarkable attitude, her graciousness, her kindness; her sense of humor. My niece, my nephew, my brother-in-law; my brother; my mother; my Aunt Barbara and Corky; my great Aunt Beryl who’s in the hospital but hopefully not for long. It’s watching everyone grow older and not caring a whit that we all have lines; that we’re all a little heavier (except for Diane. My friend: how the hell do you do that?)

My new love is Cooper. I wondered if I could fall for another dog, after Maguire. I liked Cooper but for a couple of weeks I actually wondered if maybe I’d made a mistake, if maybe it was too soon. I didn’t and it wasn’t. The last two weeks, something happened. I don’t know what it is, but Cooper seemed to finally settle into his new name and his new life, and we seemed to finally and completely embrace a new four-legged friend. Maguire was our vintage puppy; Cooper is our pre-owned boy.

Love is my dog’s wet nose as he herd’s me through the house.

Cleaning up the kitchen when the other has cooked, or cleaning up the kitchen even if you’re the one who cooked. That’s love. 

Being content to watch an NCIS marathon on a Sunday afternoon, and enjoy it. That’s love.

Love is a glass of soul deep syrah from Zaca Mesa, or inky dark Petite Verdot from Trahan.

Love is spending the rest of your life with someone you want to kill and not doing it because you’d miss them. (That’s from Bobbi; love is … that)

Love is whatever you want it to be. It can even be the new year and all of the mystery that it holds. Let it drag you kicking and screaming, or smiling and laughing. Let it unravel to be whatever it will be. Let it be a night filled with love and 365 days filled with whatever your version of love is. Because that’s what’s important. That’s life. Celebrate it at midnight and always.

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live out loud

A puddle stomping fun-fest

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 30, 2012 8:54 PM

It rained today, a lovely drizzle that occasionally turned to showers. I’m told the difference between rain and showers is that showers aren’t steady whereas rain is. To me, if it’s precipitating, it’s raining. I used to run in the rain. In fact, when I would see the sky painted gray and the air would feel heavy with moisture, I was practically giddy with anticipation. Once the rain would start to fall, I’d lace up my Asics, pull on the appropriate gear and off I’d go, iPod strapped to my arm, buds in my ears. I always ran further and faster when it was raining because it kept me cooler.

Walking in the rain has a similar effect. We walked this morning with Cooper, going about a mile and a half, to Starbucks and back. It was the perfect morning for something hot. We trudged back through the drizzle while Cooper maneuvered himself under every bush, the heavier with water, the more he liked them. We walked down sidewalks, across parking lots, down a double flight of stairs with Kevin and I carefully avoiding puddles and Cooper splashing merrily through them. When we returned, Kevin and I felt great and Cooper smelled like a wet dog for an hour or two. He couldn’t have been a happier boy unless maybe it was snow.

At lunch, the two two-legged members of the family went for another walk. It started to absolutely pour but we kept on, going up the Rockfield hill and down the Bowfield one, across Lindero and up behind the Fresh ‘n Easy through the alley behind. Birds were flying low, landing on the wet pavement. A little black and grey bird waded through water pulsing from the gutter, careening and cascading down the road, rippling as when a stone breaks a still plane of water. The bird hopped a bit, pecked at the water, then flew off to find a dry branch.

Again, we avoided puddles. But I found myself looking at them longingly. I wanted to run and jump and stomp in them, send water skyward in even bigger bursts of drops than those that previously fell. I don’t know what stopped me. Maybe it was not wanting wet, soggy feet. Maybe it was that a lot of the puddles worth stomping in were near the gutter spouts and thus the water was pretty dirty. Maybe because it wasn’t raining hard enough to make the great foot-stomping joy of something like the puddles in Singing in the Rain.

I’m a moderate fan of the film but a huge fan of the title song scene and the athletic Gene Kelly stomping with wild, glorious, joyful abandon through puddles on the backlot of the old MGM studios in Culver City. To film this famous scene, holes were dug out of the pavement to make puddles exactly where Kelly’s choreography wanted them. A complex system of pipes was engineered to make the downpour perfect. There are conflicting reports as to whether milk was mixed with the water to make the rain more visible. Regardless, the area was darkened with tarps and lit from behind to make the rain sparkle and to keep the fake shop windows from having reflections. Just as they were about to begin shooting, the water wouldn’t run through the pipes because it was after 2 in the afternoon, which was when the people of adjacent Beverly Hills ran their yard sprinklers. They filmed a bit later instead.

Kelly was also running a fever of about 103º. The soaking he endured caused his wool suit to shrink even while he was filming. I think if you watch, you can see that the sleeves on the jacket are a little too short. The scene is ten shots, and Kelly said that he created the right mood by invoking the “thought of the fun children have splashing about in rain puddles and I decided to become a kid again during the number.”

And there it is. The puddle stomping fun is silly and gleeful, and mesmerizing. It makes you remember what it means to be a kid, to be unencumbered by protocol, to not give a damn about wet feet – in fact, to prefer them. The soggier and squishier, the better.  

I thought of that scene today, one of films’ greatest as far I’m concerned. It personifies, with song and dance, the very essence of living it out loud. 

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live out loud

The chains in and of life

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 28, 2012 8:46 PM

“I wear the chains I forged in life.” So says the ghost of Jacob Marley at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, that infamous tale of redemption from the 19th century. In the story, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who takes the concept of grouchy to new heights, is given the chance to review his life, past and present, and to look into what the future holds if he continues to be bound by the chains he, too, has forged. Chains of fear, distrust, anger, and greed, but also of loneliness. These are Scrooge’s chains but Dickens very cleverly weaves a tale that could just as easily be talking about any human being, then or now.

All of us wear chains that weigh us down. They start when we’re little and trying to find how we fit into this life we have been given. Who’s going to be my best friend in kindergarten? Why do I have to have a baby brother?  We become cautious, or resentful. And as we grow and friendships and love stories, disappointments, fall by the wayside for whatever reason, our chains become heavier and more cumbersome. If we’re cognizant of them, we can remove them, either temporarily or forever, like Scrooge eventually did. More often than not, though, we keep building on our chains, making them heavier and heavier and thus harder and harder to shed. 

I was thinking about my own chains. I have insecurities and mistrust, heavy links formed from worry. I don’t tend towards greedy, and I’m not lonely, but I have chains. Some I have successfully shed; some just get put into the drawer to be worn at another time, like a necklace I’ve forgotten I have.

Think of all the chains we wear by choice juxtaposed with those we can’t see. I have many necklaces made of the finest silver, spun from the richest gold. I pick and choose what I wear based on where I’m going and what I’m wearing. The invisible chains come along too, and those are often dependent on where I’m going, who I’ll be with and my general mood. When I return, most of the chains come off, but the insecurity chain often stays wrapped around my throat, the fear chain lingers and hangs.

Some chains choke, like the collar we use on Cooper when we walk him. We’re trying to train him to not be so manic when we walk, and so the choke chain is employed to get him to behave better. It’s a horrible concept, when you think of it, using the threat of choking to get a dog to perform the way we think and want him to. When our ancestors brought slaves to this country, hundreds of years ago, we used chains to control them. We use Cooper’s chain to control. I don’t like it at all. Dog trainers have told us we can also use pinch collars. Those are chains with inward prongs that clench the dog’s neck and skin. Supposedly they don’t hurt. I can’t bring myself to use one.

White Chains by Edie Nadelhaft

One of the biggest metaphors for chains holding us back or allowing us to move forward are the enormous chains used with anchors on ships. Dispensing one into the depths of the sea keeps the boat or ship in place. A storm won’t move it from its location. But retract it and store it on board, and the ship moves forward easily, peacefully. Anchors with chains can be the weights we carry that keep us from progressing our lives. I find that mesmerizing and sad, and yet I also see the possibility it represents to haul those anchors and chains up, put them away, and move in a different direction.

All of this is easy to say. Changing chains, discarding them, is hard and scary. Look how resistant Scrooge was. And look how all of his people reacted when he had changed – with skepticism and distrust. With their own chains.

The great 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson once said: “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” If we know of these chains early on, we have a chance to change their metal, to break their links and leave them to be swept away in the wind or washed away by the next storm, before they become too strong.

The 19th century French poet Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud wrote of his discarded chains: “I have stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; golden chains from star to star, and I dance.” 

This is how I feel about my chains. With all my strength I vow to rip them from my neck, one by one, and cast them aside so that I, too, can dance.

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live out loud

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

Grapes on the floor and other delicacies

by Lorin Michel Monday, November 12, 2012 8:04 PM

As regular readers may recall, the husband unit and I have embarked on a new hobby of late. We’re making wine. About a month ago, we got our first 110 pounds of Syrah grapes from a vineyard in Santa Barbara County, an area that produces simply extraordinary Syrah. Some of our favorite Syrah wines are from that county, and specifically from Santa Ynez where wineries like Zaca Mesa, known for their Syrahs, are located. A week ago yesterday, we got our second delivery of grapes, this time in the guise of 115 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon. They came from the Central Coast region and specifically from a vineyard in Paso Robles.

For seven days this batch sat fermenting in the garage, munching on yeast, the skins sharing their color with the grape juice. Each morning, Kevin would punch down – pushing the skins that had risen because of the fermentation process to cluster in a thick patch atop the juice back down into it. Each afternoon, he would punch down again. Ditto, evening. Some days he punched down four or five times. This allows for the deep red color as well as additional flavor and the natural preservatives of the skins to settle into the eventual wine. That’s what is known as tannins. When you drink a wine that’s tannic, your lower jaw muscles twitch and clench involuntarily.

Each day we also watched the sugar level so that we would know when to remove the skins permanently from the juice, press them to get as much more juice as possible and then begin the aging process. We wanted the sugar level to be about 4 or 5 percent, down from 24.5. Yesterday it was time to press. We strained the skins through the juice and dumped them into a smaller fermenter tub. Then we siphoned the juice out of the primary fermenter into a glass carboy so that it can finish its fermentation and begin aging. Eventually it, like the Syrah, will go into French oak barrels to age and for flavor.

A little wine-making trivia for you: the siphoned juice is called free run. We got about five gallons of free run Cabernet Sauvignon. Once we pressed the skins, which took another 2 hours or so, we had an additional three gallons and one quart. We got everything cleaned up, washing the equipment we no longer needed in order to preserve it for the next time we do, putting away the fermenting tubs, and storing the wine-filled carboys on top of the work bench in the garage. Until we eventually get a bigger house, our “winery” is the two-car garage which, even while the wine is making, contains two cars and a motorcycle in addition to all of the other crap we have stored there.

Michel Cellars*

A note: once the wine is aging in oak barrels, those barrels will be moved into our temperature controlled wine room which is really not much bigger than a small walk-in closet. It holds about 300 or so bottles, and in the back, there is space for our barrels. Once we have the aforementioned bigger house, our official wine making will be split between the third car garage and the huge laundry room sporting massive countertops and a stainless steel sink. Sinks and running water are essential when one is making red wine. We’ll also have a much bigger wine room for storing wine as well as for aging in our barrels.

Everything was clean and put away save for several pieces of newspaper that had been spread on the floor to catch any errant drops and the occasional flattened, juiceless grape skin. We were standing in the garage, admiring our handy work, comparing the color of the Syrah which is dark to be black and the Cab which is more purple and red. We were checking the temperature. We want it cool but not cold; another reason to keep the cars inside, especially after they’ve been run and the heat pours off of a now-resting engine. Cooper was whining at the door so we opened it and let him come out into the garage with us. He sniffed, he pawed the newspaper, he turned an inquisitive eye – just one – to us as if to say: “ You guys are kind of messy. These papers are supposed to be on the counter in the kitchen.”

Kevin assured him that everything was just fine and he and I went back to discussing our wine. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cooper pawing the paper again, then trying to chew on something. It was a grape skin. He scarfed it up and liked it. Hey, Mikey. Liked it so much, in fact, that he went in search of more and found at least three other emaciated grape skins to nibble on.

We always wanted a winery dog. Looks like we got one.

Cooper: Winery dog

Cooper Michel of Michel Cellars. Seeker of raisin-like grape skins and other delicacies on the garage floor and all floors. If it’s edible, he will find it. Even if it’s not edible, or particularly delectable, he will eat it. He is our winery dog, and he seems to prefer deep, rich reds – or at least the skins – just like us. He’s fitting right in. And living it out loud. 

*Art by Barbara Barry, of Spoiled Dog Winery.



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