In which Cooper gets a new guy

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 22, 2014 11:42 PM

Our Cooper suffers from major anxiety issues. We were told he was a bit hi-strung and that’s because he’s part Border Collie. I get that. My sister’s dog is part Border Collie and she’s a bit of a nut, especially when there is a thunder storm or fireworks. Interestingly, Cooper is not the least bit bothered by either. Thunder rolls through or claps loudly to a lightning strike and he barely acknowledges it. Fireworks and firecrackers seem to simply annoy him but don’t they everyone?

Sometimes an unexpected loud bang like me dropping something on the floor will elicit a reaction. It varies from raising his head in annoyance to jumping up to get out of the way because he’s certain a bear is headed for him.

In the house, as long as we’re both here which we usually are, he’s fine. He plays with his toys – his guys – dragging them first from the bedroom into my office, one by one, and then at night, from my office to the great room, again one by one. Surrounded by his guys he seems calm.

Except when the UPS man comes into the neighborhood and then there is chaos and mayhem. Wild barking ensues. Barking that is nearly uncontrollable. Barking that blows him off the floor because of the energy exerted. Barking that doesn’t stop until I grab his collar and pull him to face me saying in my calmest voice “quiet” over and over and over again. There is no quiet, His eyes strain to the side. He must keep a vigilant watch. Did you see who it is, mom? It’s that dastardly UPS man and I’m sure he’s coming to get me! Get us!

He is my constant shadow. If he could be surgically attached to me so as to know where I am at every given moment of the day and night, he would be. I can’t leave the room without him coming in search of me. When he’s eating his food, which is in the laundry room just off of the kitchen and I leave to go to the bedroom or my office, he panics. I can hear him coming, racing through the house. Once he sees me, he visibly relaxes and knowing where I am, he is free to return to his food.

Cooper, Wubba and Sunny

For a while when we would leave the house and leave him behind, we didn’t put him in his kennel. But after a few “incidents,” where he misbehaved while we were out, we decided that putting him in his kennel, his “house” was probably better. When we leave now, we tell him to get in his house, which he does voluntarily. We give him his Wubba, his best good friend, and we close the door. Lately though he’s been going nuts. We put him in his kennel and he begins to howl and bark and whine, like we’re torturing him. I went in one time to see what he was doing, and he was trying to dig his way out. He had pushed his padded rug up and back and he was concentrating on the digging at the corner of the kennel where the door latches, like he was digging to China. It’s metal; he had no chance. It broke my heart.

This is a relatively new development and we’re not sure what to do. When we were at the vet a week or so ago, we asked, and the vet gave us some ideas including using a Kong toy, stuffed with cookies. A toy Cooper only gets when we leave. We tried. There is still whining and howling and whimpering and digging. We are at a loss.

Cooper is a rescue. We have no idea what his history is other than the little bit the rescue organization gave us. He’s been with a number of families so he’s been given away a number of times. I suspect it’s because he has anxiety issues. Poor baby. We’re trying to get him to understand that we’re not leaving him, or if we do, it’s only on a very temporary basis. We give him lots of love and attention. We play with him; he gets two walks a day. We love him.

Today, I went to PetCo to get some Hip Action cookies (with glucosamine and chondroitin). I can’t go to PetCo and only get hip cookies. So I bought Sunny.

Tonight, Cooper is with his peeps. He’s happy and content, not at all nutty or anxious. We’re all in for the night. Kevin and I, and Cooper. And Wubba and Bull and Perp and Chip and Rudy and Yukon and Ball and Santa Butt and the new addition to the guys, Sunny.

Who knows? Maybe Sunny will help him know that life is good and bright, and that mom and dad love him. But I doubt it.

8 o'clock

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 8, 2014 10:09 PM

The other day the husband unit and I were in the local Safeway as we so often are. It’s close and has nearly everything we need save for fresh fish. We often stop on our way back from a walk, and one of the items that is perpetually on the list is coffee. Once upon a time, we went to Costco, and bought the big 5-pound bags of whole bean coffee. We’d grind it ourselves, which is a pain, but it’s fresh and smells great. Now Costco is too far away and it’s just easier to buy a small bag of ground coffee in the store.

We drink a lot of coffee in this house. We start with a small pot that we start before we leave to walk Cooper. Then around 10 o’clock or so, we make a bigger pot. We don’t always empty the carafe, but it’s there should we need it. On cold, rainy days – which have been few and far between this season – we tend to drink more just because it’s hot and it always tastes so good.

We’re not married to any particular brand though we usually like a heavier roast, like French. We like our coffee grounds to be nearly black. It’s also good for the teeth. Often we buy the Safeway brand. It’s good and it’s not terribly expensive. When we can get a bag for $5.99 we buy two because we always like to make sure we have coffee in the pantry. Running out of coffee in this house would be paramount to running out of water or air. It makes Kevin and Lorin function.

On Thursday, we were in Safeway and perusing the coffee aisle. I snagged a bag of French Roast. Then stopped. There on the top shelf was a little blast from my long ago past. 8 ‘o’clock coffee. Still in a red bag, only now available ground. Who knows? Maybe way back it was available ground, too. I just remember the bags of whole bean at the A & P.

When I was young, I didn’t drink coffee. Most kids don’t. I started in high school when I worked at a pharmacy in Milford. It was a part time job and I often opened on Sunday mornings. The owner, John Boulter, a pharmacist, usually worked on Sunday’s too. There were usually three of us. John in the back filling prescriptions, another working the counter in the back, and one working the counter in the front. The counter in the front was more for toiletry items, cigarettes and candy. We also had some gift items like cheap perfume that were in a case at the front of the store.

On those Sunday’s, John would take our “orders” then go next door to the River Café where he’d get coffees to go. He’d come back with a cardboard tray, with the coffees in big Styrofoam cups. I always got mine with cream and sugar, and I loved it. I don’t know if it was because the Café made exceptional coffee or because it was early on a Sunday morning. Maybe it was because it made me feel more adult. Maybe it was because it tasted like hot coffee ice cream. That’s when I developed my love of hot coffee in the morning.

But I developed my love of the smell years earlier, with 8 o’clock coffee, freshly ground at the grocery store. My mother must have bought this brand; why else would I remember it? Still, I only remember her buying Chock Full Of Nuts, but somewhere, sometime in my youth, there was 8 o’clock coffee.

The coffee was one of the signature products of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, nicknamed A & P, when the first stores opened in 1859. It got its name in 1919 when, after conducting a survey, A & P discovered that 8 am and 8 pm were the most popular times for drinking coffee. A legend was born that year, made from 100% Arabica beans.

I bought the bag at Safeway and today we had it for the first time. It was good. Nothing special. I don’t know what I expected, and I wasn’t at all disappointed. It was simply coffee. I think it was the nostalgia factor that meant more than the taste. Celebrating a cup of hot 8 o’clock coffee, with cream no sugar, on a beautiful Saturday morning in the desert. It’s what’s catapulting me into living it out loud today. 

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Chasing the sun

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 7, 2014 11:29 PM

Much of the country is in the deep freeze thanks to the Polar Vortex that has swept down and across the Midwest, into the deep south and on up the east coast. I read today where Anchorage, Alaska was only 34º and expecting rain while places in Louisiana are freezing and losing the citrus crops that usually do fine at this time of the year. Places in Minnesota were flirting with 62º below zero, Chicago and many parts of Wisconsin weren’t far behind. It’s been so cold and miserable that airlines have canceled some 6,000 flights over the last few days because it’s too dangerous to takeoff and land. There is ice to contend with, both on the wings and on the runways.  The wings can be taken care of with de-icing equipment but the runways are a different story. Fuel is also difficult to get into the planes when it’s this cold.

People are suffering; some have died. Dogs are wearing coats and booties. Everything is frozen, and gray. Bitter. I worry especially about the homeless. I’m sure the shelters are over-flowing; I hope they’re letting people sleep on the floor. I read a story about a couple whose son had gone missing and was spotted in a photograph taken by a photojournalist chronicling the homeless during this cold snap. The son was huddled around a steam vent in New York, trying to keep warm and no doubt failing. I don’t think it’s possible to keep warm outside in this kind of weather.

As I do so often when it’s impossibly cold in the Midwest and the northeast, I wonder how it is that people live there. Having lived there myself until I was 22, I know it can be done. I just don’t understand why. I remember visiting one holiday season many years ago when my dad was still alive. We were going to be having a holiday meal at my mother’s house and my dad wanted to watch a football game. He didn’t like my mother’s television so he gave us the money to buy a new one. The only catch was that we had to go get it.

Mom and I took my brother’s Bronco and off we went to Walmart, perhaps the first and last time I ever shopped there. As it was the holidays, it was pretty crazy inside but we found a television and one of the workers said he’d meet us outside the front entrance to load it up. We pulled the truck up to the entrance and sure enough the kid was there with the TV, only I couldn’t get the back hatch open. It took what seemed like a half hour. In reality it was probably only minutes. The wind was howling, the sky was gray, the air arctic. The kid was in shirt sleeves and looking at me with murder in his eyes. I finally got the back open, he loaded the TV and I got back into the cab where my mother was waiting. I looked at her, and felt an uncontrollable shiver flow through me. Shaking, I gripped the wheel.

“How do you people live here?”

The St. Joseph's Lighthouse on Lake Michigan where it was -50

I honestly didn’t and don’t know the answer. I watched the Green Bay football game over the weekend. They had been predicting dangerous cold, the kind of weather where frostbite can set in quickly, within minutes. It was 3º at kickoff and dropped slightly thereafter.

I feel marginally guilty here in the desert where the days have hovered in the low to mid 60s. Even for here, that’s cold. It’s not bitter, nor, I realize, dangerous. The sun is brighter just in the fact that it’s shining. It’s not shining in much of the country right now. But it’s warm streaming through my windows.

Every morning, Cooper begins his chase to catch the sun. He starts in the western corner of my office, near my guitar case. That’s where the first rays land when they come in from the east. Soon the sun moves so he moves, too, closer to me. As the sun moves across the sky each day and the trajectory of its rays changes as well, Cooper’s position changes with it, finally ending up with his butt against the chair on the east side of my office, catching the last bit of warmth of the day.

If I could package this chase and send it to the coldest places in the country so that they could partake in the warmth, or at least in the cuteness, I would. I have no doubt that they’re chasing the sun, too. I hope they find it soon; I hope the thaw can begin. 

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The philosophy of trash

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 4, 2014 8:47 PM

I’ve mentioned before about my fascination with the discarded items often seen on the roadways, sidewalks and parking lots of the southwest. I have no doubt that these items, or their brethren, are also in the northeast and Midwest. We’ve seen countless shoes, which we refer to as lost soles, and gloves, know to us as idle hands; hats. There are often children’s toys, dolls, stuffed animals, matchbox cars, tiny army men.  Couches, chairs, tables and pillows. Ladders and tools. We’ve even found cell phones. Rarely do I see books, but today on our morning walk with Cooper there were three pages to a book lying in the parking lot we walk through on our way to another sidewalk. Kevin picked them up because it was paper; trash. He often picks up errant and obvious trash as we walk, depositing it into the various dumpsters we encounter in parking lots. I asked to see the pages and he handed them to me.

As Cooper picked his way through the bushes and along the gravel, stopping to sniff first and then to pee, I looked at the three pages, numbering 313 and 314, 317 and 318, 319 and 320. It was the beginning of a chapter called Issues: A very brief overview. Based on the page numbers, it was obviously at the back or end of the book. At the top of left or even pages, was the author’s name: M. L. Rossi. At the top of the right, odd numbered pages was The Big Picture.

A quick glance at the content showed some information about the world and defense and cars and oil and dirty politics. Sounded interesting.

“Do you want me to throw those out?” Kevin asked. I shook my head. “What are you going to do with them?”

“I think there’s a blog post in here somewhere,” I said as I tucked the pages into my pocket.

Here’s a little secret: I am constantly looking for a blog post topic. Sometimes they present themselves easily; sometimes I have to truly dig deep for something, anything to write about. And then there are the mornings when we’re out walking and I find something on the ground.

These pages, it turns out, are from a book entitled “What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World: Your guide to today’s hot spots, hot shots and incendiary issues. It’s written by Melissa L. Rossi. According to the American Library Association Booklist: This may be the perfect book for paranoiacs, conspiracy buffs, fans of Michael Moore, and just anyone who thinks the people running the world don't have our best interests at heart. … Rossi's premise is simple: there are people and organizations running the world from behind the scenes of government and commerce, and us ordinary folks would be wise to know who they are. Rossi is an award-winning journalist who has written for Newsweek, Newsday, Esquire, George, MSNBC and the New York Observer. She has also written a number of incendiary books, evidently.

When we got home, I pulled the pages out of my pocket and smoothed them out on the kitchen bar. I found such nuggets as “Water Waster: Nearly three-quarters of water in the U.S. is used in the bathroom” and this: “Here Comes Santa Claus: The top three recipients of free U.S. military aid: Israel, Egypt and Colombia – together they receive more than $6 billion in giveaways.”

Note: The book was published in 2003.

I wondered who had been reading the book and why only these three pages were on the ground. What had happened to the other 397? I was also intrigued by the words The Big Picture. Rossi was obviously referring to an overview of everything that happens in the world in regards to weapons and arms and why it is such big business for almost all countries.

But The Big Picture could just as easily been about how we all fit together in this vast puzzle called Earth; how each piece has to have the exact ingress and egress so that the next piece can snap into place, making room for the one after that. People, animals, plants, buildings, cities, cars, states, provinces, countries; oceans, rivers, fish, reefs, ships and boats. Trash. The big picture is how we interact, how we react; how we fight, how we makeup. How we see art, how we make art. How we love.

In the first line of these three pages I found, the text reads: “Love doesn’t make the world go round, arms sales do.” Cynical and true. Whoever had these pages before I did, perhaps when they were still bound in a book, had crossed out “arms sales do” and written in pencil “music does.” I like that philosophy.

I think I’ll call it the philosophy of trash, and on this first Saturday of 2014, it’s one worth celebrating. 

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A growly bear Christmas

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 26, 2013 12:07 AM

Guest post by Cooper

I got up really early this morning, even for me. It was still dark. I don’t know what woke me up but once I’m up I need to get out of my kennel and stretch and shake. Sometimes I get up on the bed, after first putting my cold nose on mom’s nose. That’s the way I know she’s really awake cause she says Cooper! Dad took me out and then I came back and got up for a nap. I guess I got up on the wrong side of the kennel though cause every time mom moved, I growled. I don’t know why but I did and she kept telling me to shush and that if I didn’t settle down. She never finishes that sentence when she says it. I guess she thinks I can finish it for her.

If I didn’t settle down then she’d make me sleep there all day. That’s what I think.

I didn’t settle down but I didn’t get to sleep there all day either because I found out it was Christmas. I kind of knew something was going on because there was a tree in the house and mom kept playing all this special music and then there were boxes under the tree and a round tree on the front door that lit up at night. I know it was at night because when we went for a walk in the morning it was just this round tree, but when we went for another walk and came home at night it was lit up.

Dad kept talking about Santa Paws coming to visit. I don’t always like it when people come to visit, especially if I don’t know them though mom and dad both say I’m getting better. I don’t like guys in uniforms and I heard that this Santa guy wears a red uniform. I wasn’t sure I’d like him if he came to the door. Turns out he comes down the chimney. Now I stood in front of the chimney this morning and I looked and I thought, how does anybody fit down that? Plus we had a fire last night and I know that fire can burn, especially if you’re in fur like me. Santa’s uniform also has fur so I didn’t think that was a good idea.

Me and Santa Butt

When we came out this morning, there was nobody else here but Justin – I really like Justin. He can come visit any time – so I figured that Santa didn’t come. Then I got some new toys and one was a Santa Butt! I looked at dad like, is this the Santa you were talking about? He just laughed.

I got to have some new cookies that my Aunt Khristan sent and that Justin gave me. I like cookies a lot. I watched everybody open their presents and laugh and talk. I was right in the middle, under the table so I could see everything, from where I was by mom’s feet. She pushed on me once or twice, by accident and I didn’t do growly bear because I only do growly bear when I’m on the bed. Don’t know why. It just seems like the place to do growly bear.

But one time, I was in front of the fire and mom came over to pet on me and I gave her a little growly bear and she laughed and said Merry Christmas, growly bear. And so I growled again.

Then I went and got my Santa Butt to chew on because dad said nothing says Christmas like a Santa Butt and since I didn’t get to meet the real Santa his butt is the next best thing. At least that’s what I think. 

Here's what happens when I'm cold and wet

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 22, 2013 11:23 PM

Guest post by Cooper

I’m not sure what time it started because I’m not always good with what time it is unless it’s time for a walk, and walks don’t happen until mom and dad get up. It was still dark so I’m pretty sure it was still a ways away from walk time and that’s OK. I was sleeping. Then I heard something that sounded like water running. It had been a really long time since I heard that sound and at first I didn’t know what it was. I shifted in my kennel, and looked up toward the window. The window was open. Dad likes the window open at night because he gets hot and mom just puts an extra blanket on the bed because she’s always cold. I like the blanket she puts on the bed. It’s all soft fur and stuff.

I think I must have growled or something because I heard mom whisper shhhh, baby, it’s just rain.

Rain! I like it when it rains. I especially like it when I get to walk in the rain because there are puddles and I get to go through them and slop and splash. I just hoped it would still be raining when I got up in the morning with dad because rain is like a bath without the bubbles. I went back to sleep and then the next thing I knew dad was saying Cooper buddy come on and he and I went out in the backyard.

Pretty soon mom called for coffee and then we got dressed to go for a walk. I heard dad say something about going right now because there seemed to be a break in the rain. BOL! Like rain can break!

Mom put on her stuff and then sat down on dad’s socks so she could put her shoes on. Are you sitting on my socks? dad asked her and she said yes and was that a problem. He said that his feet were cold and she said that’s why dog made slippers. They’re funny, my mom and dad.

I don’t know what they meant about breaking rain because it was raining pretty hard when we left the house and then when we kept walking it started raining even harder. It was in my eyes and I had to blink a lot. It made it harder for me to see but that was OK. I slopped through the puddles and pushed up against and under the trees. I like getting good and wet when I walk. Then we came home and dad said I’ll open the garage door and we can dry him off. I figured the him he was talking about was me since mom is a girl. Sure enough the door opened a minute later and out came dad with a towel. He started rubbing me all over with that towel and I was trying to bite it and wagging my tail because I love getting rubbed all over, especially when I’ve had a bath or walked in the rain and my fur is all wet.

Me, a little wet, on the bed after my walk. See my spiky fur on top?

Then I got to have breakfast.

After breakfast, I was still kind of wet and a little cold so while mom and dad were getting some coffee I decided to go to the best warm place I know: right in the middle of the big bed mom and dad sleep in. I curled up, all wet and put on my best cute cause I’m sort of allowed on the bed but after mom and dad get up and then mom puts the blankets away and puts more pillows on top, I’m supposed to stay on the floor. But the floor is cold!

Mom came looking for me after a little while and when she found me she said Kevin come here a sec. I batted my eyes. Then dad came in and they both stood there laughing.

At least they weren’t mad. Then mom took my bed out of my kennel and took it into her office and I decided that it would be better to be with her working so I got down and went to sleep on my bed with my guys purp, rat and wubba. I got warm real fast.

And the best part is that tonight I get to do it all over again cause it’s still raining. 

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Health insurance versus cookies

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 15, 2013 10:31 PM

Many things happen in any given day. Most of them are expected, occasionally there is something unforeseen. A day in the life of Lorin almost always begins the same. A cup of coffee while raking a brush through her hair, followed by a selection of clothing appropriate for both the morning and the coming day, and then a walk with her husband and dog.

Lorin’s day started exactly this way this morning. It then quickly became about more coffee and numerous phone conferences. She talked with people in different industries about different projects. She tried to catch up on projects that she was behind on, especially as related to those previously planned phone calls. The phone meetings gave her and her clients something to discuss so that decisions could be made and more work could commence.

Perhaps it was because one of her clients has been battling breast cancer, and they had the opportunity to speak this morning, and to start working together again after a long absence. Perhaps her client’s brave fight was what spurred Lorin to finally visit the health care exchange website to see if it was truly as awful as those in the news media had decided it was. She wonders sometimes if those reporting on things, like the sign up process, have actually tried to use it themselves in order to gain first hand knowledge, or if they simply take it as gospel that if the politicians say it’s bad, it must be and write about it accordingly. Lorin gets agitated by that kind of reporting. It’s why she tends to read newspaper accounts rather than getting reports from the evening news or from partisan blogs. She wanted to believe that the website was workable; she is a fan of health insurance reform. As an individual insurance buyer, because both she and her husband are self-employed, she is therefore not able to hook up with a group where costs could be shared. Her insurance premiums have been terribly high; their deductable embarrassingly so.

She did run into some difficulty almost right off the bat, trying to get a user name and password. Lorin is fairly web savvy; she has signed up on a great number of sites requiring a user name and password but this one seemed particularly problematic. It was enough to make her declare that the website was, in fact, a disaster. That, however, did nothing to diminish her support for insurance reform, and so she persevered. To her surprise, it was not nearly as difficult and horrid as it has been proclaimed. There were some areas where a bit more explanation could have been given, but after about an hour and a half, she had three “saved” plans to compare.

Many people might balk and exclaim: An hour and a half! That’s terrible! In an ordinary situation, it would be. But here’s the thing: it’s health insurance. As anyone who has ever attempted to find out about health insurance plans knows, it takes forever. One has to read everything to find out what each plan covers, to decide whether they want an HMO or a PPO, what kind of deductible, how much of a co-pay, what the monthly premiums will be. It goes on and on. Plus an application. It can take days out of your life and off your life.

Plans saved but not chosen, because she has to confer with her husband, was a good start and so Lorin logged out of the website and decided that it was time to get some work done. Only she was severely lacking in motivation. For the majority of the afternoon, she tackled only tiny, insignificant work. She surfed the internet, she had a late lunch, she had more phone calls and she answered emails. She also paid her car insurance bill.

It was all very stimulating. At the end of the day, she didn’t yet have a topic for her blog post, something she has promised herself to do every day, and so she went for a walk with the dog and her husband. The sun had already set; the night was ascending. The moon, bright and white, nearly full was playing hide ‘n seek with the scant cloud cover giving the sky a ghostly look. The trees were calm. As they rounded the corner into a parking lot they sometimes traverse in order to get to another sidewalk, a van roared through and nearly hit them.

Lorin called the driver a bad name.

They continued on their walk and finally made it back to the ‘hood. Lorin was leading the three of them; Kevin and Cooper were just behind, walking in front of the mailboxes. A car drove toward them, one of their neighbors, a woman named Laura, driving a little too fast. She pulled in to check her mail, and came within inches of hitting Cooper. Kevin yanked his leash, Cooper yipped. Everybody panicked.

Lorin wanted to call Laura a bad name but as they’re neighbors decided against it.

Finally the three made it home. Lorin hugged on Cooper while Kevin went to get some dog cookies, anything to alleviate the terror of the speeding car and the near collision with our precious boy.

The moral of the story: Bad names make you feel better. Cookies actually make you better. The jury is still out on health insurance.

The end. 

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It's 2:42 am and there's something in the backyard

by Lorin Michel Thursday, November 14, 2013 9:42 PM

It started with Cooper pushing open the door to his kennel, which we no longer latch. I heard him but expected him to do what he usually does which is come over to my side of the bed and place his head on the mattress next to me. Pet me, mom. I would then dutifully pet before getting out of bed, pulling his padded rug from his kennel and putting it on the floor next to me so he can curl up and sleep, which he does promptly. It didn’t happen that way.

Instead, he proceeded to stand under the window, ears perked, staring up and out, a low growl and a quiet woof emitting about every 10 seconds. It was the kind of woof that said I hear something, I’m not sure yet if we need to be concerned but we might want to check it out. Growl. I’ll let you know. Woof.

Being a relatively smart woman, I looked at the clock – 2:42 – got out of bed and went to the window. That’s when I heard it. A crunching of the leaves. It had been very windy here over the past two nights, pushing dry, dead, crunchable leaves up against the house, but last night was still. Only the occasional hum of a car on the road disturbed the quiet. Far off, howling coyotes fought over food, or something.

I put my head up close to the window, making sure I was actually hearing something. There it was again, crunching. Someone or something was walking beneath the bedroom window. I took a step back. Crap. What was it? Who was it?

Occasionally I experience a touch of paranoia. It doesn’t happen often, but for some reason, sometimes at night, when the windows are open and the night is quiet and I’m awake, I’m sure I’m going to see someone in the backyard. This is not rational, I realize. But there it is. I’ll lie snug under the covers, my eyes trained on the window, waiting for the shape of something non-existent to appear. This is ridiculous for several reasons, one of which is that if there was in fact someone there, Cooper would be sure to alert me. He’s good at that. Growl. Woof.

I stood there, shivering. It was in the low 50s, not cold, but cool. Crunch crunch. I decided it wasn’t a person, though it did occur to me that a head could pop up in the window at any time. The coyotes had stopped screeching. Maybe one was in the backyard. Maybe it was a mountain lion. Perhaps it was just one of the cats I had heard recently, fighting in the middle of the night. Not taking my eyes from the window, I took a step back and touched Kevin’s arm. I put my mouth down close to his ear and whispered there’s something in the backyard.  What? There’s something in the backyard. He got up and joined me at the window.

Cooper, his work done, turned and went back into his kennel. He spun around twice, the tin floor crunching beneath the pad, and laid down. He was snoring within minutes. This made me believe that whatever was out there was probably not dangerous. Either that or he figured we were bigger with more resources, so he felt safe putting us in charge.

Kevin and I stood there, hunched over, peering through the open blinds as if being hunched would somehow make our vantage point better. There it is, he whispered. Where? In the backyard, there by the tree. Is it a cat? No. I don’t think so. Well it’s not a coyote or a mountain lion. It’s just sort of stalking its way along. I think it’s a skunk. A skunk? I’ll go check. No. You can’t go check. If it’s a skunk and you startle it it’ll spray. I won’t startle it. What are you going to do? I’m just going into the living room. Relax. I won’t startle it.

Soon the light came on. All that did was obscure the skunk from my view at the window. It didn’t startle; it didn’t spray. It just continued to make its way along the wall, crunching. We went back to bed, listening. Soon it was under the window again. Cooper stirred but didn’t growl or woof. And then it was gone, having squeezed under the side fence in search of another adventure.

I looked at the clock. It was exactly 3. There was no longer anything crunching, nothing to worry about, but we stayed awake for a while, listening and talking, and laughing about Kevin, Lorin and Cooper’s big adventure with something in the backyard. 

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Tubas, foghorns and growly bears

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 9, 2013 10:04 PM

There is something very soothing about the deep, rich, vibrating sound of a tuba. It was always one of my favorite instruments when I was in the band oh-so-long ago. I played bass clarinet, an instrument that is shaped rather like a saxophone, only instead of it being shiny brass, it’s black wood and as such is a wood instrument. I have no idea how I got into playing the bass clarinet; I just know that I did and that I was first chair and that somewhere I have blue ribbons from competitions where I would have to play some song in front of judges. My recollections are vague.

But the tuba was the biggest instrument in the band, save the kettle drums and those don’t count. I’m talking about an instrument that you have to use your lungs in order to coax out a sound. The tuba players in the band when I was in grade school were all boys and still fairly small. The tubas were as big as they were. Even though I liked it, it was customary to make fun of the tuba. It was a decidedly un-sexy instrument. This coming from someone who played the bass clarinet. The irony is not lost on me.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the tuba even more. It emits the most lush and resonate notes. They’re still big and still look awkward, but they have presence. Their sound grounds you, washes over you. It’s no wonder when they sound a bit like a foghorn.

I don’t know how much foghorns are used anymore since most ships and even smaller boats are equipped with their own navigation and radar systems, not to mention advanced communication equipment. They know when they’re coming in too close to a bank or reef. (The Costa Concordia notwithstanding.) But once upon a time, the shorelines of places like Maine and Northern California had lighthouses, lonely places at the tip of a landmass that was otherwise uninhabitable. Tiny, round and tall, with a catwalk around the top and a light that flashed lazily at night and when it was foggy, these houses often had just a sole occupant. The first US lighthouse was built on Little Brewster Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor but the British blew it up in 1776. The replacement was built in 1783 and is currently the only US lighthouse that is still manned. All others are computer controlled.

The lighthouses of old made sure that approaching water traffic knew that they were, in fact, approaching. When it was foggy especially the horns would bellow low and imposing, a land-based whale song. Most foghorns, like lighthouses, are only for show. Sometimes an electronic version is employed, more for nostalgia than any other reason.

A growly bear in the morning

And then there’s the growly bear. This bear is not a bear of imposing size but he emits a growl that is low. He emits this growl a lot but specifically when he is lying down and one of his peeps moves or moves him. Grrrrrrrrr. It’s not ferocious or a warning that a bite may soon follow. Rather it is simply a resignation, a possibility, an irritation, a way of asserting a little bit of authority. We thought the growly bear only emitted his growls when he was on the bed and one of us had the audacity to potentially disrupt his sleep. We quickly found out that the growly bear also growls when he is sleeping on the floor and we move. Or when he is sleeping and shifts positions and there is no one doing anything but having a cup of coffee. The growly bear is a “get off my lawn’ kind of guy where his growl is the bite. In other words, non-existent.

Growly bear is adorable in his lack of ferociousness. If you lay your head on his rib cage and just agitate him a little, the sound that emanates is very much like a tuba and a foghorn. Sometimes it’s a short toot followed by a long note. It’s quite the band, and it’s all coming from inside my wonderful dog, the growly bear named Cooper who’s growling it out loud.

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I am 1 plus 6

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 27, 2013 12:10 AM

Guest post by Cooper

I have a black spot on my tail. No body knows where it came from but when I first went to see Dr. Y – she's my vet. I like her but not really cause she does stuff to me that I don't think people should do to dogs. Just sayin' – she said it was a gland. I don't know what that means, a gland. Somebody else and I don't remember who and maybe it was my teacher Danielle – I really, really don't like her so one day I bit her. She hasn't been back ­– said that she thought maybe I had some chow or something in me. I would like to have chow. Chow is like breakfast right? Anyway, I have a black spot on my tail; also on my tongue. Otherwise I'm mostly gold and red and white. My mom says I’m handsome.

I'm 1 today. That means I’ve been here with my forever parents, mom and dad, for a year. Mom likes to say furever. I think that's kind of dum and besides that's not how you spell it. I had a lot of parents before mom and dad. I had a lot of houses. I guess I never really had a home. Didn't really know what that was. I do now. I like it.

I'm actually not really 1 though mom does sometimes tell me I'm her puppy. Dad usually says I'm a nutbag. I like nuts. I was kind of fully-grown when mom found me. I had been five the last time I went to the vet before Dr. Y, but there was something about the date that mom and dad said made me closer to six. Dr. Y actually looked at me the first time, and especially some of the stuff under my fur and my teeth, and said "gosh, Cooper! How old are you?" like I actually knew and like I was going to tell her. I didn't know her enough to tell her something like that.

One year ago, mom and dad picked me up and brought me home. I didn't know what to think. They seemed nice enough. They gave me a nice blanket and new toys and these really kewl bowls that were up off the floor so it's really easy to eat and get a drink.  I still have those bowls though most of the toys got eaten. I have new ones. There's always water in my bowl. I like that, too.

Yesterday mom said that tomorrow - that's today I think though I'm not real good with time unless it's time for a walk - would be my birthday. Dad said that no, it's really my anniversary since they don't know when I was actually born though I'm pretty sure I was. Dad says sometimes he thinks I was hatched. BOL! Hatched!

Maybe that's why I like chicken so much.

Me, on my birthday, with three of my guys

I am 1 plus 6 today. I hope I get something really special to celebrate. I think I heard mom say she got me my very own piece of chicken. That would be the best anniversary-not-birthday present ever.

I have a black spot on my tail and white toe socks on my back feet. Dad says I'm a mystery boy wrapped in an illusion. I don't know what that is but I like a good mystery. That's what mom says, that she likes to figure stuff out and since I'm a momma's boy, I'll bark it too.


I like it here. I think I'll stay.

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