The expected but still sad demise of Wubba

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 23, 2013 8:12 PM

Wubba has died. A close friend of Cooper’s since the latter months of 2012, he was a force to be reckoned with, strong of character and able to sustain being thrown around the house with great force. He had recently fallen ill, however, having suffered a fairly severe head injury. Wubba was five months young.

Born late last year, Wubba came from the Kong family. Known as the ultimate interactive play toy for dogs, he was designed to play fetch and even a little tug-o-war. With a muscular build, he had a delicate squeak and five talons/tails/feet so he was easy to pick up and even easier to throw about the room.

When we got Wubba, it was completely on a whim. I was in PetCo or maybe it was Pet Smart, picking up dog food or maybe it was milkbones. I always peruse the toy aisle looking for something cute that my four-legged friend simply shouldn’t have to live without. We hadn’t had Cooper long. As a rescue, he was still getting used to us and his surroundings. We were still getting used to him as well; him and his eccentricities. What he liked, what he didn’t. We had a hedge hog waiting for him when we brought him home, but he hadn’t shown much interest in Hedge. Wubba, all brown and adorable was hanging on an end display. I’d never seen one before. I thought it was just sturdy enough to withstand the chewing, pulling, and throwing that would inevitably commence.

I presented Wubba to Cooper and they were instant friends. In fact, Wubba often had the place of honor in the kennel with Cooper when he went to bed or when Kevin and I went out and Cooper went into his kennel. He always grabbed Wubba first and then they’d go in together.

Wubba, circa early November 2012

Wubba also became a co-worker. Each day, after a night spent together in the kennel, we would all get up. While Kevin and I got dressed for a walk, Cooper would wrangle Wubba and start to growl and pounce and play. Then, once we were ready, the four of us would head toward the entrance way where Wubba would be dropped to the side in favor of the leash. Once we returned, and the leash was removed, Wubba once again found himself in Cooper's mouth. Up the stairs they would race, directly into my office, where Cooper would drop Wubba to the floor, then drop down next to him.

The office wasn’t the office without Wubba. If somehow, someway, Cooper forgot his chocolate colored friend, he would race back down the stairs, big dog butt bouncing along, run into the bedroom, grab Wubba and then race back up the stairs.

Cooper doesn’t believe in walking.

For five months, Wubba has been the toy of choice. Other toys have come and been destroyed, falling victim to a red-furred dog’s ferocious paws and teeth. On Christmas morning alone two toys were promptly decimated. My mother had sent an Abominable Snowman from the Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer Christmas special. My sister had sent Yukon Cornelius (I suspect they went shopping together). Both fell victim to the power and determination of Cooperman.

But Wubba stayed strong, held fast. Even on that fateful day when he and Cooper raced down the stairs and out through the back door, literally, tearing the screen from the frame. Cooper dropped Wubba in the yard and looked back as if to say “what?” Then he pointed a paw at Wubba: “it was all his idea.” Wubba didn’t deny it.

Wubba’s problems started earlier this week. There was evidently some type of altercation in my office because soon there were two brown ears discarded on the carpet. Those ears left tiny holes in Wubba’s head and errant strings. Strings that Cooper hooked his teeth on and pulled. Soon the tiny holes were big holes. And white tufts of Wubba stuffing began to appear on the floor. The head injury was catastrophic; the loss of stuffing profound. Wubba was not able to survive.

Cooper is distraught. He has been moping around the house all day, looking for best good friend Wubba. Alas, Wubba has gone to that big toy box in the wherever.

There will be no funeral. Wubba will not be cremated. He will instead be tossed into the trash when Cooper isn’t looking so that he can make his way to a landfill.

Unless Kevin decides to resurrect and restuff him. In which case we will have FrankenWubba.

Celebrating the life of Wubba on this Saturday night. He will be missed.

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live out loud

If a coffee pot beeps in the kitchen but its owners are still in bed, does it make a sound?

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 20, 2013 8:48 PM

Every once in a while an existential question arises. Albeit not usually at 7:30 am, but it happens. It happened this morning. Allow me to set the stage. It was cloudy and cool so it actually seemed earlier than it was. I could hear cars starting around the neighborhood; people on their way to work, maybe to school.

If a car starts in the OP and it’s actually a hybrid, can anyone hear it?

In the distance, a dog barked and then another.

If a dog barks and he’s alone, does anyone feel the need to bark with him or at him?

Cooper stirred, as he always does when he hears another dog. He was still in his kennel so he only lifted his head but his tags jingled. I could see him without looking. I knew his ears were forward and alert. Next to me, Kevin stirred as well. He rolled toward me and opened an eye to see me looking at him.

If a person wakes up alone, does anyone else know they’re alive?

I smiled at him and he closed his eyes again. Then he stretched and groaned and made wake-up noises before saying ‘morning.’ I said it back and Cooper shook his head making his tags clank and bang, the sure sign that he was about to stand up, arch his back and emit a low growl, which is Kevin’s clue to get up, put on his robe, rub his hands across his hair to try to tame it, slip on his slippers, and take the puppy out to pee. Cooper thumped his tail against the sides of his kennel as Kevin walked toward him, then, with one more shake, off they went to the backyard for a quick squirt. Cooper, not Kevin.

Within moments, Cooper was back, resting his head on my side of the bed. I petted and cooed at him. He moved around to Kevin’s side and I started the countdown. Three- two- one. Crash. 58 pounds of dog landed on the bed, moved toward me, flopped down and put his head next to me on the pillow.

Meanwhile, Kevin padded toward the kitchen. I heard him yawn. Soon I heard the refrigerator door open and close, I heard the can that we keep the freshly ground coffee in, clatter onto the counter. The water started to run, followed by the garbage disposal. I knew he’d be pouring more water into the Cuisinart. The can would be opened, he’d be scooping coffee into the gold filter. Then the glass coffee carafe would be shoved back into the machine. I could see him flipping the switch into the up position and the red light coming on. He would wait just a moment until the water started to heat and the machine started to rumble.

If there’s no one there to see the red light, does it come on?

He came back to bed after that. It was cold and dreary. As we waited for coffee, he climbed back into bed and rubbed his now chilled feet on mine. Mine, having stayed snug under the covers, were still warm, as was my whole self.

If no one is there to feel your warm or cold feet, does it really matter?

We talked about the day, what was in store, who we needed to talk to, what we needed to accomplished, what we hoped would happen, how eventually it would all lead to dinner and what were we having. It was all very innocuous and Wednesday morning. Cooper stretched out between us and rolled from facing me to facing Kevin with a heavy sigh. We both laughed. He was going to have such a tough day of sleeping and eating and two walks.

If you spend the day sleeping, does anyone ask why?

If you’re in love but nobody knows, does it count? 

If an argument happens in a vacuum and the one you’re arguing with isn’t even there, does it really matter?

After a few minutes we realized that the coffee must be done, but neither of us had heard the telling five beeps that the Cuisinart emits when it has finished brewing and the coffee is ready to pour. Kevin asked if the machine had beeped and I said I didn’t know, I hadn’t heard it but that it must have. Either that, or coffee was all over the counter as happens sometimes when we don’t get the carafe placed correctly.

We stayed there for a minute more, listening, not really wanting to get up because it was cold out there in the world and knowing that as soon as we got up, the day would start and we wanted to keep it at bay for just a few minutes more.

Then came the existential question of the day: If a coffee pot beeps in the kitchen but its owners are still in bed, does it make a sound? Followed by: Do we really care, so long as there’s coffee on a Wednesday morning?

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live out loud

Old Milwaukee

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 14, 2013 10:55 PM

It was an absolutely glorious day in the Southland so naturally my thoughts turned to Milwaukee. Allow me to set the stage. In typical K and L and C fashion, we were walking. It was about 8:06 or so when we got to the end of Hawthorne and crossed over Bowfield to head up into and around the cul de sac.

The sun was warm, unseasonably according to the weather dudes last night on KABC. Kevin was in shorts. I hadn’t gotten to that point yet – something about it only being the middle of March and technically not yet shorts season. But I was in lightweight pants and just a long sleeve denim shirt. Cooper was dressed in his usual fur and Aztec collar. We spun up and around and as we did, we came upon the remnants of what was undoubtedly a wonderful little party last night. Said remnants consisted of an empty can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and some other blue bottle. I could see a cigarette butt or two. It all fit. Cheap beer and bad cigarettes. Probably teenagers.

Would you be surprised if I said it made me nostalgic for when I was a crappy teenager drinking cheap beer? I would be surprised, too. First, I would never be nostalgic for being a teenager. I hated being a teenager. And second, I was never particularly fond of cheap beer.

But the Pabst prompted a discussion with the shorts-clad Kevin.

Me: “Is that a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon?”

Kevin: “Yup.”

Me: “I didn’t even know they still made that stuff? Do they still make that stuff?”

Kevin: “Well, they must. Either that or that was a really old can of beer and that’s just gross.”

I nodded, we kept walking. Cooper didn’t offer an opinion though he did lift his leg.

Me, after a few minutes. By now we were back onto Hawthorne but going the opposite direction. “Wasn’t there another really cheap beer called Stroh’s?” He nodded. Me, still: “Tim used to buy cases of really cheap beer when we lived in San Diego. But it only cost like $6.99 a case so it was like swill.” Ah, memories. Misty, swilly-colored memories of the way I used to live my life. Cue Barbra Streisand. “But I don’t think it was Stroh’s. Was there something cheap that started with a B?”

He racked his brain. I could see him squinching his mouth, which is what he does when he’s thinking really hard. Cooper was busy peeing on something else.

He offered Babst. But I thought he was joking.

Me: “You’re kidding right?”

Kevin: “Yes. Actually it’s Blatz. Or it was. I don’t know that they make it anymore.”

[They don’t because it became Pabst in 1958.]

We kept walking and he began naming some cheap beers he could remember: Schlitz, Hamm’s, Old Milwaukee.

Me: “That’s it!”

Old Milwakee, which doesn’t even have a “b” in it unless you count the “b” in Beer. It has evidently been a trusted, high quality beer since 1849, receiving awards and accolades. It became a value beer in 1955 when it was purchased by Schlitz Brewing. Then in 1982 both were acquired by Stroh’s. Stroh’s was acquired by Pabst in 2000. I just love how everything is cyclical.

I remember the beer cans on the bottom shelf of the used refrigerator in a ratty little apartment in San Diego in 1985. This was before Tim and I were even married. We were kids. We had no money. A case of beer cost $6.99. It was about all we could afford. I think at that point I was drinking Blue Nun Gewürztraminer so who am I to judge.

Old Milwaukee was brewed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin which has a section called the Third Ward that’s located in the historic warehouse district of the city, a place that’s home to more than 450 shops, restaurants, art galleries, theatre groups, creative businesses and residential homes. So there’s Old Milwaukee and old Milwaukee. Since I was never big on beer and especially on cheap beer, I’m going with the latter, even though I’ve never been there.

Me: “You know I’ve never been to old Milwaukee.”

Kevin: silence

Cooper lifted his leg. Again.  

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The chaos of a Wednesday morning

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 13, 2013 9:42 PM

When we first got Cooper, and were all getting to know each other, we got up every morning much earlier than usual. We’d be walking by 7 am. It was cold then. Some mornings we would bundle up in layers and wear gloves. There was ice on the sidewalk; the blades of grass were frozen. Any fallen leaves crunched and broke under our step. That was when Cooper was a puller and seemingly aggressive. A 7 am walk was quiet. We didn’t run into a lot of people, especially not people with dogs. It was a good thing.

As everybody got more comfortable we started walking a little later. We’d go at 8 o’clock, when the kids were going to school and people were going to work and dogs were getting walked. But it was too stressful because of Cooper being a puller and squaring off against other dogs because they were so threatening to him, especially little white yappy dogs. He seemed to be particularly irritated by them.

Then the incident happened. Granted it was a Saturday morning when that happened, but still. That spooked us. So we got a dog trainer and started our home schooling program. We also started walking him at odder hours, times when we were fairly sure we wouldn’t see too many people and dogs. Morning walks happened well after the kids were in school and parents had zipped off to work; afternoon walks were before any of the adults got home to walk the dogs that maybe didn’t get walked in the morning.

But since training we’ve been feeling a little better about walking our little monster and besides, I’ve been pretty swamped. It’s hard for me to go later in the morning when I should already be working. So this morning we started out earlier, around 8 once again, and ran smack into the chaos of Wednesday. There were kids everywhere, pulling their little wheeled backpacks along behind them. They were like miniature flight attendants, on their way through the terminal and down the jetway to fly away to the land of learning.

Their parents were either frantically trying to catch up or were far ahead, trying to coerce their little frequent flyers to fly faster in order to get to school on time.

There were cars zooming around corners, down streets, through stop signs, filled with kids and sometimes dogs, and still more frantic parents trying to get their cargo safely delivered to Red Oak or Oak Hills elementary schools before zooming off to work or back home to take care of things there.

Phones were ringing, dogs were barking. There was much noise, much mayhem, much chaos, and into this, we took our now diagnosed-as-terrified puppy for a walk. Ever vigilant, we both were constantly looking up streets and down culs de sac, looking for people but more, looking for dogs. We are constantly scoping other dogs when we walk so that we spot them before Cooper and we can prepare for any reaction on his part and correct him as necessary. The morning was already warm. The sun was streaming through the trees, lighting spraying sprinklers like tiny diamonds in the air. There was no breeze but lots people, lots of cars, lots of movement and rushing.

The parents corralling their kids reminded me of wranglers herding their flock. The constant and rapid movement and noise reminded me of when I used to work at Sebastian and we were on deadline and whatever we were on deadline for wasn’t done and we were rushing to finish, make changes, get approvals and get it out the door. It wasn’t the most efficient way to function. In fact, it was chaos management at it’s finest.

Chaos management is actually a good thing. It’s the ability to work through upheaval, disruption and turmoil to achieve success. Chaos theory is the scientific principle describing the unpredictability of weather patterns, ecosystems, water flows, anatomical functions, even organizations. While systems may seem wildly unfiltered and nonconforming, they can still be defined by a formula, still given order and boundaries. So chaos isn’t as chaotic as once feared. It can be managed, or so the theory goes.

My own theory is that the chaos of this Wednesday morning and every weekday morning for that matter is simply the way life is. We all have things to do, places to be, people to interact with, jobs to accomplish, kids to school, families to feed, dogs to walk, dogs to avoid, and it’s all fine. It connects us somehow. Even though we don’t know each other and never will, there is order to what we do and how we interact by crossing the street, walking past one another, moving toward our goal. It’s chaos as a way forward. Even Cooper seemed to be largely unaffected. And that’s always a very, very good thing. 

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And the eyes are wise

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 6, 2013 7:47 PM

One of my loyal readers, Fred, commented on a recent blog post that he just needs “to look into an animal’s eyes … to gain clarity.” It got me thinking and thus writing. I, too, have spent much time looking into the eyes of my dogs, the late, great Maguire, our vintage puppy, and the new addition to the family, one Mr. Cooper, our pre-owned puppy. Interestingly both of them have similar eyes. Brown, alert, and clear. Looking into them was and is like looking into their souls.

Kevin used to hold Maguire’s head in his hands, one hand cupped on either side of his ears, and pull his face close so they could have a conversation. Maguire allowed it because he loved his dad so much. Kevin said that he had absolutely no doubt that Maguire understood everything Kevin was saying; that he could almost hear Maguire answering, with his eyes.

The eyes of an animal, especially one who is older or even just growing old, can tell us so much. They are wise with life and love. They look at you with such astonishing clarity they can almost make you self-conscious. It’s as if they can see if you’re being honest, if you’re a fraud. And they love you anyway. This is the power that comes through the gaze of an old dog.

Last week, Roy and Bobbi gave us a book to commemorate the anniversary of Maguire’s passing. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year today that he left us. The passage of time – and the wonder of our dear Cooper – has made it easier to bear but we still miss him all the time. We miss his big furry self sprawled on the floor, his drool drying on the wood, his stretches and his noises. We miss his patented three-woof announcement for everything from “I see you” to “there’s someone at the door” to “yes, I would very much like that piece of chicken, thank you.” Woof, woof. Woof.

Our beloved Maguire a year ago, watching us from the sunshine of the backyard. 

The book is called Old Dogs are the Best Dogs and it’s by Gene Weingarten with photography by Michael Williamson. In it, Weingarten writes: “They find you brilliant even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac: Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

“As they age, dogs change, always for the better. Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing – his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness, his unequivocal love. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce.

“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these things are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But above all, they seem at peace. This last quality is almost indefinable; if you want to play it safe, you can call it serenity. I call it wisdom.”

So do I. And it is most visible in the way the eyes of an old dog follow your movements without the head following along. It is how they look at you, how they see you, how they express their love and knowledge of all that you are completely through their eyes. Old dogs don’t wag their tails anymore. The mechanism either doesn’t work or it takes too much effort. All of their expression comes through their eyes and even their ears; through a kiss on the nose.

Maguire used to watch us both at nearly the same time. He would be lying on the floor, with his head tucked between his two front paws and his eyes would move to Kevin on one couch, and then switch to me on the opposite couch. His eyebrows would arch as his eyes tracked first one way, then the other. After doing this six or seven times, the eyes would begin to close. He’d fight it a little but only half-heartedly. Soon, he’d be sleeping. He had secured his people. Life was good.

Cooper, just a few days ago, in the kitchen, gazing

Maguire was 15 years old when he died last March. We still feel his presence, we still speak of him all the time; sometimes I still hear his tags on the floor, the heavy sigh as he’d lie down, letting the world escape through his nose. I can still smell his fur. I can still see his beautiful brown eyes.

I see them now; I see them in Cooper’s brown eyes. The depth isn’t there yet, the wisdom hasn’t come to him – he’s still in that loopy middle age nutty stage, still doing the helicopter tail wag round and round and round – but it will. Just give him time. 

The adventures of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 3, 2013 10:27 PM

Episode 3: Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles

In the ongoing saga that is the proper training of our pre-owned puppy, Cooper Michel, I thought it prudent to report the following: Trainer Danielle came yesterday morning, was here for another hour and a half, we learned even more and we have homework.

She called just before the appointed time of 9:30, said she was about a mile away and that she was going to drive by the house, honk her horn, and then park down the street a bit. We were to get Cooper suited up and then exit the house to walk. In essence she wanted to see how we were progressing after our first training session two and a half weeks ago. We stood anxiously in the kitchen, watching out the window. Cooper, oblivious as always, was crashed on the floor with best good friend Wubba. We’d already gone for a walk earlier in the morning so that he could have some regular time, and to get in what we call Pee Ops. Part of our training is to control him at all times, including when he gets to pull up at a tree and squirt. Hence, the Pee Ops.

Danielle drove by, honked twice, we got Cooper up, attached his pinch collar and leash (again) and prepared to exit stage left. He was jazzed. Two walks! And it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! Woohoo! Saturday’s are the best day in the world! I really like it here! You guys are the best parents ever!

We left the house with Kevin on leash duty, or as we call it, the Chain Gang. We stopped in the driveway and looked to see where Trainer Danielle was standing. I finally spotted her behind several cars just down the street. She motioned with her hand for us to walk. We started moving, with Cooper merrily trotting next to us. Then she emerged from behind the cars, with a dog.

Now regular readers will remember “the incident,” that horrid Saturday three weeks ago when our little Cujo attacked a poor, unsuspecting Golden Retriever after managing to unhook his leash. “The incident” was the catalyst for Trainer Danielle. “The incident” made us terrified of ever seeing another dog on the street again, ever. Did I mention ever?

Two and a half weeks ago, in our first session, Danielle had brought two of her own dogs, a big American Bandogge Mastiff and a German shepherd, the most well behaved dogs we have ever seen. Which they should be, of course, because she’s a dog trainer and her own dogs are her best references. And Cooper learned to be just fine with them. Maybe he would be with this new dog, too.

The new dog was a jet black labradoodle who looked a bit like a big throw rug or afghan.  She stopped in the street, gave him a hand signal and he collapsed into a pile, with a front paw tucked underneath. She indicated that we should keep going, then turn around and come back. She got her dog to get up, walked a bit more, then collapsed him again. Up down, up down, down up, down up. He just kept lying on the asphalt on command. At least it was still early. There was no traffic and the heat wasn’t yet horrible (it got to about 85º yesterday).

Trainer Danielle with Cooper

Finally, she told us to stop, in the shade, and she brought black rag-dog closer and closer, telling us what to do with Cooper, watching how we were with him and how he was reacting to the new dog. Once on the sidewalk, she had her dog turn around and lay down with his back and butt facing Cooper.

“Kevin,” she said from beneath her huge sunglasses. “Bring him over here so he can get a whiff.”

Kevin edged closer; Cooper took a smell.

“Ok, let him closer and relax the leash.”

Kevin: “No.”

“It’s fine. Let him get closer. Let him smell and sniff and lick if he wants.”

Kevin. “No.”

Remember. “The incident.” We’re going to have commemorative t-shirts made.

After several more back and forths with Danielle saying let him go and Kevin stubbornly refusing, Kevin relented and Cooper got good and close, and proceeded to perform the equivalent of a somewhat pornographic act on the black rag-dog, who just laid there and did absolutely nothing.

Danielle kept referring to the dog as Crew. I asked if he was one of hers. Nope. He was a client’s dog and she was taking him for the weekend because the clients were having a huge party and they didn’t want the poor dog relegated to the dog run for the entire day/night. Plus he’s kind of a wimp. Just a year and a half old, Danielle has been training him since he was 8 weeks old and he is afraid of his own shadow. I asked what his name was. It’s Crouton. So Crew is actually Crou, and his complete name is Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles. Or as Danielle called him yesterday, “bait.”

It was funny. Sort of. You know, given “the incident.”

After Cooper got a few more licks in, we wanted to ask if Crouton tasted like a garlic or an herb, and if it was like having a Caesar salad.

But we didn’t.

Because that would have been rude.

An hour and a half and much training later, we began to move into the reward part of the training. As in see-a-dog, get-a-treat. We’re reconditioning and rewiring Cooper’s brain to believe that seeing a dog is a really good thing and it leads to treats. We have two weeks to practice this theory. We’re calling it Pavlov’s Cooper.

In the mean time, the misadventures of Cooper Michel, pre-owned puppy, continue. At least he has a real name.

Living it out loud in the OP with Coopertino, Cooperlicious, Cooper Dooper, Coop de Ville, the Cadillac of rescue puppies. 

The grind

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 1, 2013 6:54 PM

My husband was grinding coffee this morning and the smell of it filled the house. I’m not sure there is a more welcome and rich fragrance in the early part of the day unless maybe it’s fresh ground coffee and cinnamon coffee cake mixed with the smell of a soft, dusty rain as it dampens the dry earth. I was in bed. It was only 10 minutes to 7. Cooper had already been out and had positioned himself next to me on the bed. It’s his new habit and while it’s endearing, it does leave a healthy amount of red fur on the comforter. I’m going through lint rollers like I own stock.

Maguire used to get on the bed, too, when he was young. He was at least 30 pounds bigger than Cooper, and when he stretched out on his side, he was nearly as big as a person. He didn’t tend to stay on the bed long; he got too hot too quickly especially if there was another person also on the bed. Many a day we’d come home to find that he had camped out on Kevin’s side, probably in the afternoon sun as it streamed through the blinds. He’d meet us at the door, innocent as could be, but the Maguire-size indentation and the fur on the comforter were tell-tale signs. I started buying bed-in-a-bag because to put an expensive comforter on the bed seemed shortsighted and a horrible waste of money. I’ll be buying bed-in-a-bag again now that Cooper has also discovered the joy of a California King pillow-top.

He didn’t seem to react to the smell of the coffee but he did stretch and sigh and make his usual guttural sounds. I stretched, too, and stuck one foot out from under the covers. I was cold last night, as always, and so I was snug under the covers, but the minute I woke up, I started to warm up. I find the best way to cool off, short of getting out of bed, is to simply snake one foot out into the cool air. I lay there, with most of me still under the covers and one foot out, eyes half closed which means they were open enough to see Cooper, and with my nose crinkling with the delicious acridity of Columbian and Espresso beans whirring themselves into powder at my husband’s hand.

When I was a kid, my grandfather worked at an A & P in Pittsburgh. It was one of the big grocery store chains in the northeast at the time, and even after we moved from Pennsylvania to New York we would often shop at the local A & P. It was what we knew, and we were comfortable with it. Creatures of habit. Of course, I was too young to actually shop, but I was also too young to be left home alone so I’d often accompany my mother, along with my brother and sister to the grocery store.

In the front of the store, near the coffee aisle, there was a big red grinder. It was always covered with fresh ground coffee dust and errant beans littered the floor. After buying a bag of A & P beans, people would pour the bag into the top of the grinder, close the lid, reposition the bag below, choose the texture and then hit the button. The machine would whir to life and the beans would crunch and grind into some form of coffee powder that would deposit itself into the waiting bag at the spout at the bottom. The bag could then be resealed, and off you’d go, home to brew several fresh pots.

I don’t remember if my mother ground her own coffee; I only remember the smell in the grocery store. In fact, I think my mother probably bought a can of already ground coffee. I didn’t drink coffee at that age. I started in high school when I worked in a pharmacy in Milford and on early Saturdays and Sundays the owner would buy everyone who was working a fresh cup of coffee from the River Diner. It always smelled good, too.

I started drinking coffee because of the smell. I think that’s one of the reasons I still drink it.

There is something comforting about the fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans as they waft through the house. It reminds me of my childhood, of being with my mom at the local A & P. I guess ultimately it reminds me of home. I wonder if that’s why coffee houses are so popular.

At our home there is often fresh coffee from freshly ground beans. Lying in bed, I knew there would be some this morning, as fresh as could be, plus it was Friday. As I lay there with Cooper, with one eye open and my foot sticking out into the cool, the clock rolled to 7 AM. I could hear the coffee maker gurgling and roiling, and I knew it had the makings of a good day to be home.

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Things that go grrrrrrr in the night

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 5, 2013 8:46 PM

I have always been a bit of a night owl. I can’t stay up as late as I used to for a number of reasons, mostly due to the fact that by 11 or 11:30 I’m pretty tired. I start my days early and no matter how much a person loves the night, that person needs to go to bed in order to recharge her batteries. When I was in college, it was much easier to be up until all hours of the night, especially since I worked in a restaurant. Restaurant people never go to bed until the sun is coming up. I made sure to never schedule early morning classes because of it.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer but there’s something about the night that is both comforting and mysterious. It obscures so much of what is normally visible during daylight hours and it offers the chance to imagine, to live and breathe during a time of reflection and great quiet.

But last night, the great quiet was interrupted by something going grrrrrr or scrape or drag. It was around 3 am, which seems to be when most things happen to awaken me when I’m supposed to be sleeping. Often times, it’s biological. Sometimes, it’s neurological, and occasionally it’s visceral. Sometimes these things happen, where I think I’ve heard something and I come to realize that it’s just me, in my brain, perhaps a dream. But last night, it wasn’t just me. Cooper heard it, too. From his kennel in the corner of the room, he began to elicit a low barklll, which is what I call a bark followed by a short guttural growl followed by another bark. It was the kind of bark he uses when he’s not sure if he needs to be concerned. The concerned bark is ferocious and loud.

Once again, as always, I sat up in bed, listening. I was sure that I’d heard something, I just couldn’t figure out what it was. Maybe something I have propped up against a wall slid down and the noise came from it sliding across the floor or down the wall. But I couldn’t figure out what I had propped that was heavy enough to growl. I did give Kevin an engraved wine barrel head that is against the wall in the dining room, but it just didn’t seem right.

Maybe the 1948 bicycle we have secured on the bridge above the entrance way somehow started to break free and drag. But I quickly dismissed that, too, since when Kevin hooked that very heavy steel to the wall, it was into a wall stud. There’s simply no way it could be on the move.

It could have been a tile, sliding down the other tiles on the roof I supposed but that would have to be discovered in the morning.

“What are you doing?” Kevin whispered.

“I heard something that sounded like a growl.”

“It was probably Cooper.”

“It wasn’t Cooper.” But he was already asleep, his breathing easy and steady, also not concerned.

And then my imagination started working as it so often does in the middle of the night when I’m wrapped up in darkness with only occasional sounds to distract me. I had heard a growl, I was sure of it. But what was it?

Suddenly, my mind saw a cat. No! A mountain lion. Somehow one had gotten into the house and was stalking through the hall, low and menacing. No. That’s ridiculous. First, we don’t really have mountain lions and even the rare one couldn’t get into the house. It’s way too suburban, too civilized. Couldn’t happen.


Once we move to Tucson, that will change. We’ll be in the middle of nowhere. Our four acres are on the edge of town. The hills to the east are dense with cactus and trees and rocks. Our property is much the same. We already know we have deer. When we’ve been out there at night, we hear other noises crunching around above us; we’ve heard the call of something. We’ve heard growls.

When we’re finally in our house, we’ll be all alone. If a creature gets in to our home, and growls on its way to finding us, we’ll be ALL ALONE. In the middle of NOWHERE. It could happen. It could. I can see it, or rather hear it. OMG. IT’s coming.

Cooper gave a final ruff and a heavy sigh and settled back into his kennel to go back to sleep. Whatever he heard, he decided it wasn’t worth risking his life to investigate. Soon he was snoring, along with Kevin. The danger had evidently been averted. It was time for me to turn off my imagination and settle back down to sleep.

I snuggled under the covers, found the perfect spot and allowed sleep to wash over me.

GRRRRRLLLLLLL! Wide awake and awaiting the lion.

Sometimes having an imagination is nothing to celebrate. Especially when it’s living out loud at 3 am. 

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live out loud

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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live out loud

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.

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