The Friday exhale

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 28, 2012 1:53 AM

My husband tells me that he’s ready for my little experiment to be over; I think he’s right. So after today, I’ll get back to regular weird, obscure, hopefully sometimes profound, and even more rarely positively brilliant posts. I thank you, dear reader, for shuffling along with me this week. Please allow this final indulgence, and tomorrow – well, in the immortal words of Scarlet O’Hara – is another day.

So in last night’s dreamland, I was in a helicopter flying over Las Vegas, getting ever closer to the water so that I could see the boats, some of which were dangerously close to each other. I was looking for dolphins I think but finding none, I turned my attention instead to the buildings that seemed abnormally small but maybe that’s just because I was so very high. A crowd had gathered and as soon as I reached out toward them, the entire scene appeared to dissipate, like fog lifting quickly to reveal a blue sky.

I wondered if it was because it was Friday, that the week and all that went into it, with work, files, meetings, clients, getting my hair colored, and more was represented by the boats mostly going in the same direction, since each day is essentially moving toward its logical conclusion and to the week’s end.

The dream was bizarre for the fact that it didn’t seem to have any people in it, other than a faceless crowd. I couldn’t see anyone on the boats, couldn’t make out anyone on the ground. Perhaps my dreams are getting lazy; perhaps I’m just tired. I’ll go with the latter.

After a night without a great deal of sleep, I’m glad to exhale on this Friday, to have a bit of down time coming with the promise of tomorrow. A day when I can do all kinds of things that don’t require a lot of brain power. Physical versus mental things. Stuff around the house things like cleaning, maybe even cleaning out a closet. Washing a car or two. Perhaps a bit of laundry. I’ve come to realize that I cherish my Saturdays simply because they’re so easy, so physical. So visceral. The only true thinking I’ll have to do is to come up with tomorrow’s blog post but I consider working on my posts to be fun and fulfilling; real.

On this Friday, as I sit here in my office, listening to the easy sounds of the afternoon, I am struck, as I often am by how easily the days fly by. Just yesterday it was Monday. I look back at the past five days and I take stock of what was accomplished and what still has a place on the to-do list. For having worked steadily, I’m sorry to say there is more still in place than has been crossed off, but that’s OK. Much of what I do is long term and steady. Like the tortoise in the infamous race with the hare, I know I will one day cross the finish line on each. A deliberate focus and the end-goal is what makes it happen.

Outside the wind chimes are gently touching, sending soft songs into the late afternoon air. On my computer screen, in the lower right corner, the puppy cam is still on. I’ve had it on all week. It serves as a reminder of all that is good and innocent and wondrous, still. In a world constantly entwined in brawls and nastiness, there is nothing more simple and simply profound than six golden retriever puppies romping. Perhaps only six golden retriever puppies sleeping in a pile. It is my definition of life itself.

I’ve always felt this way about puppies, at least as long as I can remember. I think puppies and dogs remind us all of what we should strive to be. Maguire used to do that for me. Every time I would descend the stairs from my office and he’d be laying there, looking up at me, I would remember: this is life. We sleep, we eat, we play, occasionally we get to go for a walk. I learned much from my vintage puppy. His ability to exist in the moment is lesson 873 of the many lessons he taught in his 15 years.

The six puppies are being raised by the Warrior Canine Connection, a group that teaches members of the military suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder how to train service dogs in order to be partnered with veterans with mobility impairments. They’re based in Brookville, Maryland, where these five little blonde girls and one little blonde boy were born on June 24 and are quickly growing. The group’s tagline is ‘serving humankind for 30,000 years….’ a reference to how long humans have relied on dogs.

There’s longevity there, peace. There’s also truth and again, wonder. Watching the puppies I can feel any stress dissipate, and feel the warm sunshine filtering through a blue sky. It’s Friday. There are puppies. Let’s live it out loud.

The Tuesday episode

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 24, 2012 11:35 PM

In today’s installment of Lorin’s weird dreams, I was in my old college Toyota, having chosen that over my mother’s much sleeker Supra and I was driving one of my clients and her little girl to the beach. My sister was also with us but she was about 5. It was raining like hell, I couldn’t see but I was driving straight ahead as if I could. My brother was there, too, at the front of the car, telling me which way to go – to the right! – like he was on the bow of a boat – starboard! – so as not to hit anything or go off the road. But I hit something anyway and then I had to get another car and the beach was too crowded anyway.

To which I say, huh?

The human mind is an amazing place to visit but I’m not sure I’d want to live there.

On this Tuesday, I have spent some time watching a service-puppy-cam. I do this sometimes simply for the smile value. It’s addictive, watching puppies frolic and eat and sleep and play. There are six particular puppies on this one live cam, and one mother, all golden retrievers. The puppies are in training to become service dogs. They evidently start this training at a very early age, conditioning them to certain things. I don’t know what all was done, but I watched the woman I’m assuming is Holly since the cam’s name is Holly’s Half Dozen as she lifted each up onto a table, removed their collars, maybe trimmed their nails, fed them something off her fingers and made sure they stood up. There was no sound on the cam; I wish there was. I would like to have heard the little puppy yips and yuks as they pounced and chewed and acted all kinds of puppy-tough. I’ve had the cam minimized, down in the lower right of my screen, most of the day.

At one point I had first Bobbi and then Kevin completely hooked. Kevin was even doing a running commentary. Hey, guys. Watch this. Hey. Where’s mom? Hey, did you see what’s happening over here?

A still from Tuesday's puppy-cam episode

Watching these little balls of fluff on puppy TV made me remember my own ball of fluff when he was just 8 weeks old. So much energy, bounding around the house, bouncing instead of running, eating his food in mid-air as we were pouring it into his bowl, terrified to go too far on a walk, even on his leash. We kennel-trained Maguire, and each night, after he had been fed and taken outside for a small puppy walk, we’d let him run around the house. Each night, that meant a gradual emptying of his kennel. His house, we called it. It was his den, his sanctuary. There was a blanket, his toys. And one by one, each thing inside would be carried outside and deposited in a nice little Maguire pile on the rug in the dining room. Then the playing would commence.

When we first got our beloved boy, we still lived in a two-story town house with a sunken living room. There were two steps down and he handled those well. The stairs up to the second floor were another tail all together. They were split, with three up to a small landing, then a 90º turn to the left where the majority of the steps loomed and led to another landing. Another sharp 90º turn to the left, up two and you were in the hallway that separated the two bedrooms. He could get up the first three, make the turn and then get up one. Then he’d stand there with his front paws up on the next step, rear legs on the first step, and cry that wonderful little puppy cry that said “it’s too scary; I can’t do it.” One of us would pick him up, assuring him that everything was just fine. He tried and tried.

One night, after I’d gotten home and taken him out, he was tearing around the dining room with his blue bone in his mouth. I dashed upstairs to get something and as I was up there, the phone rang. I was in the master bedroom; I grabbed it. It was Kevin. We talked for only a minute or two but as I was standing in the bedroom, suddenly this little black ball of fur popped around the corner. He had made it up all the stairs. He raced down the hall toward me, little legs moving as fast as he could make them, his ears flopping in his created breeze, tongue hanging just to one side of his mouth; a big grin on his face. He was so proud. He had braved the mountain to get to mom and he had conquered.

I’ll never forget that moment. Even now, as I type the story, I’m smiling through my tears. Dog, he was cute.

On the web cam, mom has come in. She’s eating as the puppies feed. She looks sad, in that beautiful way that dogs do; I suspect she’s over this motherhood thing. They’re getting too big; she’s tired.

There are seven dogs on this show, all of them that sweet honey color, all of them well-cared for; loved. It’s crowded like the beach in my dream but the weather is fine. It’s naptime now. One just tipped over his brother, another stood in the empty food bowl. Another one is curled on what I believe is the equivalent of the puppy litter box. Mom is lying in the middle of them all, surveying her pups. Now her head, too, goes down. Soon the feet twitch; the dreams have begun.

Another episode comes to an end. Roll credits.

The good and the wonder of lazy

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 15, 2012 1:28 AM

Last night at Fritini, amongst our many topics of discussion, was one about lazy. The now-licensed therapist (oh, how I love typing that) otherwise known as Bobbi, said something along the lines of not believing that people are born lazy but that it is instead a learned behavior. It got me thinking. Can people be born lazy?

I know many people who I would classify as lazy, either physically, intellectually and sometimes both, and I've often wondered about the why. I don't mean lazy as in the occasional not do much on a Saturday afternoon or even for the entire weekend. I mean not having any desire to do anything ever. Not seeking to better yourself either by looking for another job or joining a networking group or losing weight or exercising or reading a book or a newspaper. Not seeking to find out about the world you live in. There is so much information at our fingertips courtesy of the almighty intertubes, how can someone not want to take advantage of that? And yet I know people who don't have a computer and don't get the newspaper. They just watch TV. It's something that escapes me but I also tend toward the typical Type-A personality. A bit too driven, a little too ambitious. Though I do know how to relax. I just don't do nothing - I don't do lazy – well, at least not for long.

Lazy (also called indolence) is defined as a disinclination to activity or exertion despite having the ability to do so. It is often used as a pejorative, along with other illustrious terms like couch potato, slacker, and bludger.

Despite Sigmund Freud's meanderings on the pleasure principle, Leonard Carmichael notes that "laziness is not a word that appears in the table of contents of most technical books on psychology... It is a guilty secret of modern psychology that more is understood about the motivation of thirsty rats and hungry pecking pigeons as they press levers or hit targets than is known about the way in which poets make themselves write poems or scientists force themselves into the laboratory when the good golfing days of spring arrive." To which I say, huh? A 1931 survey found that high school students were more likely to attribute their failing performance to laziness, while teachers ranked "lack of ability" as the major cause, with laziness coming in second.

It is common for animals (even hummingbirds that have high energy) to forage for food until satiated, and then spend most of their time doing nothing, or at least nothing in particular. Maguire excelled at this. On the other hand, some animals, such as pigeons and rats, seem to be forever searching for food rather than finding, eating and then napping. I suppose that's why they're rats and pigeons.

From 1909 to 1915, the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease sought to eradicate hookworm infestation from 11 southern US states. Hookworms were popularly known as "the germ of laziness" because they produced listlessness and weakness in the people they infested. Hookworms infested 40 percent of southerners and were identified in the North as the cause of the South's alleged backwardness.

There are actually articles about overcoming laziness. They even list multiple steps that can be taken, things like strengthening your motivation through affirmations and visualization and thinking about the benefits of not being lazy as well as the consequences of continuing in laziness. But this seems to me to both miss the point entirely and to thoroughly demonstrate the entire issue of lazy. If one was capable or even wanted to not be lazy and sought to do something about it, one wouldn't be lazy in the first place. Perhaps just fearful. And thinking about wanting to do something isn't the same as actually doing something. Thinking but not doing is nearly the definition of lazy. It is a state of passivity and of letting things stay as they are.

Which of course doesn't address whether people are born lazy or learn to be that way. I actually think it's a little of both. I've known people born into the same family, given the same opportunities for college and bettering themselves. Some excel, others don't. That leads me to believe that laziness is something that is there from the beginning, or at least the proclivity for laziness is there. Then circumstances help cement the slothiness. I also believe that a lot of laziness comes from fear, and fear can be related to timidity which can be just a person's personality, something you are born with.

It's all very complicated but so interesting. It should be noted that in addition to me being mostly a Type-A personality, I am also writing this post ... from bed. It's just after noon, and though I've been up for hours, even cleaned up the kitchen, made a pot of coffee and got the newspaper before coming back to stretch out with my trustee iPad, I remain, in bed. On a Saturday afternoon. And I'm not sick.

Since I know my mother will be appalled to read those last lines, I'm going to go with my laziness being a learned behavior. Today, I'm just fine with that. In fact, I'm celebrating it, along with the cool air of the fan as it blows across my feet at the end of the bed.

Ruffing it

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 13, 2012 1:22 AM

Silverton, Oregon is a small city located on the banks of the Silver Creek, nestled in the foothills of the Cascades east of Salem. Established in 1854 by Polly Coon Price, who planned her new town around an old Oregon White Oak tree, it was originally a trading and banking center that grew in prominence as the Pacific Northwest expanded. By 1894, it had a population of nearly 900, and by 1921, it boasted several types of industries producing exports for other areas of the Northwest including flour, timber and metal piping. The weather in the city, then as now, was cool and rainy, often into the summer. But on one February day, the day after Valentine’s day, in 1924, the weather was stunningly sunny and warm. A dog hobbled down the main street of Silverton. He was ragged, footsore; mangy. He walked slowly, deliberately until he found the place he was looking for, barked once and lay down.

Elizabeth and Frank Brazier opened the door and gasped, for the scrawny dog peacefully asleep outside their restaurant, the Rio Café, was their 2-year-old scotch collie-mix, Bobbie, who had disappeared on August 15, 1923. Bobbie had accompanied the family on a cross-country road trip, and when they stopped for gas in Wolcott, Indiana, he had been chased by several wild dogs, disappearing into the wilderness. The Braziers had searched everywhere, calling for their beloved pup. They spent several days but couldn’t find him. They called around the town. They advertised in the local newspaper. Nothing. And so they drove, devastated, back to Silverton, but not before leaving word that should anyone find Bobbie, they would pay to have him sent home via rail. Their last vision of Bobbie had been of him running for his life with three snarling dogs in hot pursuit.

Bobbie on the car

But Bobbie wasn’t really lost. He followed, evidently, traversing some 2800 miles alone, swimming rivers and crossing the Continental Divide in the dead of winter, fighting off predators. It took him six months to the day to get back to Silverton.

The Braziers were overjoyed. The local paper, the Silverton Appeal, printed the story of the incredible dog’s trek, a story that was quickly picked up and printed in other papers around the country. People began writing letters, many addressed simply to Bobbie, the Wonder Dog, or Silverton’s Bobbie. Some of the people who wrote claimed to have seen the dog as he navigated his way home; they spoke of distinguishing marks including a mostly tucked tail that curled to the right, and three white paws. Bobbie, it seemed, had many friends along his journey.

Bobbie and Frank

The Humane Society of Portland gathered the letters and pieced together what appeared to be a surprisingly precise account of the dog’s route. After not finding his people in Wolcott, Bobbie first went toward the Northeast, further into Indiana. Then, based on eyewitness accounts, he started exploring other directions. He went a bit south. He went due east and due west, perhaps trying to pick up a familiar scent. He must have found it.

On their trip back to Oregon, the Braziers had left their car in service stations each night. Bobbie visited each of these stations as he traveled home. He spent time in a camp of transients, then called hobos. He stayed for a while with an Irish woman in Portland who nursed him back to health after some sort of accident left his legs and paws torn and bleeding.

Silverton is famous for several things. Cartoonist Homer Davenport hailed from there as did Clark Gable, but Bobbie, the wonder dog, is the town’s most famous citizen. He was given a medal by the Humane Society. Silverton gave him the key to the city – no amount of research I did could tell me if the key was edible – and perhaps best of all, permission to walk the streets of town free from fear of the dogcatcher. The Home Beautifying Exposition in Portland built him a miniature bungalow for his new doghouse.

He lived like a king for the remainder of his days, which, sadly, were not many. Just three years later, Bobbie died. Veterinarians wondered if the strain of his journey had finally caught up to him.  His cause of death was listed as ptomaine poisoning, a type of food poisoning.

Bobbie was buried with honors at the Humane Society’s pet cemetery in Portland where Rin Tin Tin placed a wreath on his grave. Each year, Silverton still honors the memory of Bobbie with a parade. By all accounts he was truly an amazing dog, one who loved his family greatly, who endured great suffering to be with them; one who is worth celebrating.

Live it out loud, Bobbie. Wherever you’re ruffing it.

The reality of soul mates

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 1, 2012 10:48 PM

A long time ago I read a book by Richard Bach titled The Bridge Across Forever: A love story. It was published in 1984, the year I graduated from college, and I was still a bit of a gooey romantic at that point. I read the book – about hope and love – on a trip to Maui several years later with first husband, Tim. Even then I wasn’t naïve enough to think that the wonder of the book would in any way translate to that relationship. We were already in a death spiral.

The book explores the meaning of fate and soul mates. It’s a bit of a fairy tale, albeit a modern day telling, based on the author’s relationship with the actress Leslie Parrish. Bach described it as a story about a knight who was dying and the princess who saved his life. Ultimately, it’s a riveting love affair between two fully human beings, a real life man and woman who are willing to explore time travel and other dimensions as they struggle with intimacy, commitment, smothering and whose turn it is to cook. When I read it, it gave me hope that true love and commitment were sustainable, even as my relationship was faltering. The story illuminated the idea of life’s soaring possibilities, of the perfect entwinement of two souls. Soul mates. It was a remarkable book, one I should probably read again just because I remember so little about it even though I remember the feeling it engendered.


Bach divorced the woman he wrote the book about after 22 years of marriage. Still, it made me wonder about the idea of soul mates, and if there is truly such a thing, or if we all just wish for it so badly that we make it so.

In ancient Greece, Plato had the playwright Aristophanes present a story of soul mates in a dialogue called The Symposium. The tale was simple: human beings originally had four arms, four legs and one head with two faces. Zeus, the father of all gods, feared the power of these humans and so he split them in half, separating them seemingly forever. These two halves were destined to spend their lives searching for the other half in order to find completion. Notice, however, there was no mention of their souls.

In theosophy, the Greek system of esoteric philosophy, God created androgynous souls, equally male and female and neither of which. These souls spent many lifetimes searching for their corresponding halves, that once found, would dramatically fuse back together and return to God or heaven or wherever they wanted to reside. Today soul mate usually refers to a romantic partner, one with whom we form an exclusive and lifelong bond.

Soul mates find each other and become kindred spirits. Sometimes it’s a romantic partnership, sometimes it’s a best friend. Soul mates are all about forming significant, lasting, deeply emotional relationships that teach you something about yourself. According to some, these relationships don’t even have to be long-term; they don’t have to have been positive in nature. But as long as these relationships teach us about ourselves, about how we can be better people, then we have made a soul connection.


I don’t entirely buy that description. I agree that many people come into our lives at various times to teach us things we need to know. And while the knowledge may be long-lasting, maybe even permanent, the relationship does not qualify as a soul relationship. By that definition, nearly everybody that teaches you something is a soul mate and I believe that cheapens and belittles the term. To me, a soul relationship is one that I can relate to at the deepest levels. Someone who has changed my life and is continuing to change my life.  My first husband was not a soul mate; my second husband is. We connect on every level. I am a better person because of him. I cannot say this of the husband before. I was a worse person because of him, and though I learned things about myself and about love in that relationship, it was not good. It was not a soul connection.

Kevin and I are those two halves spoken of somewhat in jest by Aristophanes. We are the two souls who needed to find one another to become one. We’re still our own people with our own minds, our own eccentricities, our own beliefs, but we’re better together than apart. He’s the laughter to my joke, the half ‘n half in my coffee, the cabernet to my sauvignon.

I have soul mates in my closest friends as well. People who have been in my life for nearly as long as I can remember; others who were in it once and have come roaring back. I am better because of these people. I learn things, I appreciate the teachings, the fun and the not-so-fun. We have soul connections. They make me feel. They are the chips to my dip.

I have these connections with members of my family, specifically my sister. We have very different lives, but she makes me a better person because she is a better person than I. I am better with her in my life. She is the calm to my storm.

My beloved Maguire, too, was a soul mate. Souls, if you believe in the idea of wandering the earth for lifetimes searching for the one who completes you, can come in many sizes, many forms. Maguire enriched my life in ways that are beyond description. He was the bark to my bite, the cheese to my cracker.  Which naturally leads to what happens when a soul mate passes on.

Connecting forever

According to Richard Bach, the connection remains as love transcends the concepts of physicality and time. It is about a truth, about bright hopes, beautiful dreams and magical possibilities. It is about building a bridge across forever. About living it out loud.

As the crow flies: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 1, 2012 1:35 AM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here. We've been having some issues with birds lately. Well, maybe not birds. Birds aren't so bad. When I was just a pup I was really good friends with a little tufted dude. I think his name was Birt and we used to play in the trees. He'd sort of flit from one branch to the next while I scrambled around the trunk. We used to have a really good game of tag. His family flew south one winter- I think that means Mexico. Or maybe it was San Diego. They never came back.

We still have nice birds but we have a whole bunch of crows and I really don't like crows. In fact, I don't think I've ever met a crow that I liked. They're big and loud and think they own the trees. Plus they're mean. They’ve chased me, which is bad enough, but the other day, Mrs. Squirrel was on her way to the market, otherwise known as the next street over, looking for some dates, and they started after her. Totally uncool. Lately they've been squawking up a storm. I heard Hey Kevin yell at them two days ago with an equally loud Hey! So I guess they're Hey Birds.

Hey Kevin doesn't like Hey Birds. At. All.

Even Hey Lorin doesn't much like crows and she's usually much more patient with all things in my little kingdom. But today, I was sitting on Hey Kevin's roof, in a square of shade. Those crows were squawking something fierce. I tried barking at them but it didn't work. So I put my paws in my ears. They sounded like they were fighting, just yelling back and forth. I have no idea why they seemed to be so mad. I mean, it was a beautiful day. And there’s lots of stuff to eat, it being summer and all. All of the fruit trees and stuff are there for the swooping. Hey Kevin closed his windows; he was on that phone thing. I guess he was having trouble hearing. From inside the house I heard this rumble and then a sharp yell: HEY! Out comes Hey Lorin. I guess they were even bothering her and she was in the house! She sort of stormed across the patio toward where that Kobe dog lives, waved her arms like some sort of nut - I like nuts - and those crows flew up and away, squawking the whole time.

I took my paws out of my ears and listened to nothing. There was a little chirp somewhere and I thought about Birt. Cars went by, kids laughed and screeched. Dogs barked. These were all sounds I like.

I don't really understand the need for crows. They're not very nice and they're not very pretty, and they're very very very noisy. Hey Kevin feels the same way. He came out of his house after the latest incident. I scampered down to the edge of his studio. Hey Kevin looked up and nodded at me, like Hey Squire. I nodded back. Hey Kevin.

Just then a crow landed on top of the tree above the studio. We both looked up and growled. Then Hey Kevin started to laugh and then I started to chuckle a little and pretty soon we were both having a great time. The crow flew off, like he was mad that he hadn't made us mad again. Or maybe it was because he didn't get the joke. I didn’t really get the joke either but I’m sure it was funny.  

Hey Kevin and I do not like crows. Not one bit. And we sort of made a silent pact to do whatever we could to chase them away from our yard. It was a really cool bonding moment.

The only thing that would have made it better was if the big dog could have joined us. We would've been like the three musketeers. Hey Kevin standing on the patio, the big dog patrolling the yard, and me, keeping peace in the trees. All of us keeping the neighborhood safe from crows.

I really miss that guy.

The bark of the dogs

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 27, 2012 12:31 AM

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m in the kitchen, standing at the table (it’s a pub table so it’s tall), listening to the sounds of the OP as they filter through the open bay window. The last shards of sunlight are highlighting the tops of the trees; the trunks are already in shadow. Across the street, Carter, the wheaton terrier, is outside in the backyard and she seems decidedly unhappy about it. She’s been barking steadily for at least 45 minutes. It’s not an obnoxious bark. It’s actually rather muffled, as if she’s ruffing through a pillow, the original bark silencer. There are two cars in the driveway at her house so I imagine someone is home but whoever that someone is evidently is not hearing what she has to say.

I believe that when dogs bark they are communicating. They’re not just barking because they can, any more than most people talk only because they can. Dogs bark to announce someone’s or something’s arrival, whether invited or not. They bark when they hear something they can’t see. They bark when they see things they can’t hear. They speak when we tell them and then we sometimes get mad when they do. I would think a great number of them get confused on a fairly regular basis.

Our neighbor Kobe, the terrier terror one wall over, barks all the time. It’s as if he barks to hear himself bark, though I’m smart enough to know that’s not the case. He barks for three reasons: he doesn’t know not to, because he can, and because he can’t see everything that he hears beyond the great wall of Kobe land. Kevin gets mad at him sometimes and to be truthful, I’ve been known to mutter “Kobe: Shut the f*&^ up” a time or two, but he’s not a bad dog. He’s just never been properly socialized. And he’s outside quite often, without any attention. He hears things; he barks. When he hears us on the patio, grilling, we get bombarded with RUFF, RUFF RURURURURURU!

The size of the dog is directly proportional to the size of the bark. Small dogs yip and screech, and are generally aggressive. Medium dogs have slightly more depth to their growl and ruff. Large dogs rumble with authority and huge dogs cause earthquakes. They don’t bark very often since they don’t really need to. The sheer size of them is enough to communicate nearly anything they might need to say.

Like Go. Away. Or Need. Cookie. NOW.

When we were walking the other day, up a fairly steep hill, we were both surprised by two huge barks coming at us from the wall above. We looked up, hearts pounding. Two Great Danes stared down at us. They barked in order to let us know they were watching us. They weren’t necessarily concerned, but they were there and needed us to know that.

The aforementioned Kobe the terrible has been known to bark as early as 5:30 am and as late as 1 am giving us a four and a half hour window of silence. Down the street and on the corner there’s a house with five small dogs. When we walk by on the sidewalk, they spew out tiny conniptions. We usually just look and shake our heads.

Maguire was never much of a barker. He was known to be more the strong silent type. He would bark three times, pause, and if it was needed again, like if we hadn’t yet attended to his needs, he’d bark three more times. When we would go for our mid-day walks, he would wait in the kitchen window. Somehow he could see us, even when he was older, as we were on our way back and he would bark. Ruff, ruff. (slight pause) Ruff. He was telling us he saw us and was ready for us to be home.

When he would go out into the backyard for a cookie or just to go on tour, he would let us know when he was ready to come back in with one sharp bark at the door. Then he’d wait and stare. If we didn’t come running immediately, he’d bark again, just once. If he was still forced to wait – the unimaginable horror – he would bark twice, nearly indignant. As soon as the door slid open and he bounded inside, he was fine.

Barking actually expresses the different emotions the dog is feeling. Loneliness, fear, suspicion, stress and pleasure. Playful barks are often short and sharp. Distressed barks are often high pitched and repetitive (see: Terror, Kobe). The pitch actually gets higher as the dog becomes more and more distressed. A dog left home alone might bark like this (see: Muffled, Carter). Some dogs, like hounds, bark when they’re chasing something. For some reason, this type of barking is often called singing because it’s more of a howl, longer and with more tone.

K9 Magazine has translated barks so that we know what our canine companions are telling us. For instance:

  • Continuous, rapid barking means “call the pack. There’s a problem!”
  • Strings of three or four usually translate to “there may be an issue. You should check it out.”
  • Prolonged barking is asking the question “is there anybody out there?”
  • One sharp short bark is a greeting. Or it could be “stop that; I’m warning you.”

As I listen to the sounds of the dogs in the ‘hood, I miss my boy, naturally, but it also makes me smile. Because I love wondering and imagining whatever it is they all have to say.

The kids are out. Laughter ensues.

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 19, 2012 12:11 AM

Last Friday was the last day of school here in the OP. I suspect it was the last day of school in many school districts around the state if not around the country. I believe my niece and nephew are also out and they’re back east, in New Hampshire. I spoke to my sister today and she mentioned, casually, that she wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do for the next two and a half months; that Caden, her six-almost-seven-year-old was already driving her a little bit nuts. I smiled. I remember those days with Justin. School would end, usually the Friday before Father’s Day, we’d celebrate Kevin on Sunday and then Justin would start camp on Monday. He went to the local YMCA, a day camp that started around 8 am and ended at 4:30. It was great for him, gave him something to do all day, and allowed us to continue to work. With parents who both work, camp can be a necessity.

Each night I would pack his lunch for the next day. A sandwich or some sort of a lunchable, cookies or graham crackers, sometimes chips, sometimes cheese and crackers, an apple or some other fruit establishment, a juice box. Load up a nice brown lunch bag, staple it shut and write his name in big magic marker letters: JUSTIN M.

Two days a week, the kids went swimming. One day a week they went to the beach. One day was a field trip to an amusement or water park. One day was just hanging at camp and make crafts. He loved it when he was little. His friends were there. Kevin or I would drop him off in the morning and he’d skip off in his board shorts, t-shirt, baseball hat and sneakers. I’d have slathered him up with sunscreen before he dressed. Sunscreen went with him in his backpack, along with his lunch, and his gameboy. Gameboy was the big entertainment source back in the day.

Camp lasted for 8 weeks. This was a good thing because we really couldn’t spend all day with him for several months [See above mentioned work]. I’ve often wondered what parents that don’t have nannies, and don’t send their kids to camp do when they’re little. It’s not like when Kevin and I were kids and we’d leave the house in the morning and come home at dark. These days, parents would panic and rightly so. Even in the OP, where it’s safe to the point of boring, kids don’t run around for hours without supervision.

Great Bath from the 3rd millennium BC

Today on our walk, I heard the unmistakable sounds of summer. Behind the high walls surrounding every house in the neighborhood came the delighted squeals, giggles and splashes of kids celebrating their release from elementary prison. They shouted but no words were intelligible, they screeched with delight at everything and anything. Dogs barked. We could hear their tags clanking together as they ran around, chasing their charges, jumping into the in-ground pools along with their kids, climbing out and shaking it all off.

Pools, even in Southern California, are synonymous with summer. Fly over this part of the country and in many of the tiny back yards are oddly shaped blue bodies of water. They all look much the same and yet completely different. In-ground pools have been around since the Great Bath that was dug during the 3rd millennium BC in the Mohenjo-Daro in what is today modern-day Pakistan. It was lined with bricks and covered with a tar-based sealant. The Greeks and the Romans built artificial pools for athletic training, nautical games and even for military exercises. Emperors kept fish in their private pools. The first heated swimming pool was built by Gaius Maecenas of Rome, a political advisor to Octavian who eventually became an emperor by the name of Caesar Augustus. It was the 1st century BC.

By the mid 19th centuries, swimming pools had become very popular in Britain with six indoor pools complete with diving boards in London. After the Olympics in 1896, swimming pools began to proliferate, even making their way to ocean liners. The first ship to have a pool was the White Star Line’s Adriatic in 1907. White Star’s other famous ship, Titanic, also had a swimming pool. I wonder why we never hear about that.  Hmmmmm.

Pools are made of concrete, vinyl and fiberglass. They come in many shapes and sizes. Many have intricate tile work, some have slides, others diving boards. Some are above ground, some are infinity. Listening to the kids today, I remember how wonderful it was to be a kid out of school for the summer. We didn’t have a pool but I remember my friend, Adrienne, had one. The people who lived next to my grandmother had a pool. When I would visit, I got to swim and splash and squeal with delight.

Laughter always ensued. 

Washing the car: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 17, 2012 1:23 AM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The squire here, and sitting up on the roof. I sure do love Saturday. It's the best day of the week. Everybody is just real relaxed and sort of hanging out even though they're doing stuff. Like the guy across the street. I think I've heard them say 'Hey Dana,' and then Hey Dana says back 'Hey Kevin, Hey Lorin.' I didn't know that people had Hey before their names but I guess that kind of makes sense, me having Squire before my name.

Hey Dana was out this morning washing his big black truck. That thing scares me. It's really loud and has about the biggest tires I've ever seen. If I ever got caught under one of those tires, well, it makes me squiver in my fur just thinking about it. I always stay way away whenever I hear it coming up the street or leaving the house.

While Hey Dana was washing his car he had his big dog out with him. Her name is Carter. She's the second dog they've had and she looks almost exactly like the first dog they had. I think I remember her being called Hannah. Hey Lorin liked Hannah but the big dog, the Knight, he didn't much care about her. Some people called Hannah the mayor but the big dog, he was the Knight and Knight beats mayor any time. I think that's what happens on that chess game.

I sure miss that guy.

Up there on the roof, there was this tiny bit of wind moving through my fur, tickling my ears. It made my nose twitch. Inside the house, Hey Kevin was making coffee. I heard the water pour and then I heard the slide of the front window as he opened it to let in some air. They do that almost every day. I didn't hear Hey Lorin. She was probably asleep. It was still a bit early. Mrs. Squirrel was sleeping too. I could hear the water hitting Hey Dana's truck and then I heard the front door open and Hey Kevin came out to get the newspaper. They like the newspaper. I only like newspaper to use in the den. It keeps the cold air out. That was an old trick I remember my dad doing way, way back before he was gone.

Hey Dana.
Hey Kevin.

Hey Carter. Only he kind of made her name sound like caaarrrrrteerrrr. That's how I knew her name. Then Hey Dana started spraying the truck again and also spraying at Carter, playing, and Carter turned and ran and growled and hopped and then circled back for more. It was really cute to watch. It reminded me when Hey Lorin would say to the Knight, Hey baby. Wanna wash the car? And he would get so excited to go out in the front yard to basically lay under the tree and sleep while she did all the work. That was his idea of washing the car, I guess.

They say 'hey' a lot. Just an observation.

I jumped out onto the branch just outside the kitchen window. Hey Kevin had gone back in the house and was standing in the window, watching Hey Dana and Carter. He looked a little sad. I think he was probably also thinking about the big dog and missing him, like I was. I know it's going to be father's day, too, the first one without his big furry boy. I started wishing I could do something but I didn't know what.

Then I thought well, maybe if I just scamper down the tree and help wash the car later. Snooze in the shade. Maybe that will be a good way to remember and to help celebrate. Then I can also remember my own dad, and Hey Kevin can also remember his dad and Hey Lorin can remember hers.

It'll be like washing the car with all the dads. And the Knight. Yep. That would be good. That would be what a loyal squire would do.

So I did.

In service

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 5, 2012 11:33 PM

Today is primary day in California but unlike many other states, it’s pretty low-key. Mitt Romney has already clinched the republican party nomination, Obama is the sole democrat on the ballot, and California is mostly a forgone conclusion anyway. We’re heavily blue out here. There are also some open seats for congressional seats. There has been a lot of redistricting, and so we had to choose who we want to run in the fall. There are also some ballot initiatives, though thankfully not as many as usual. I’m not a big fan of ballot initiatives, especially if they involve allotting a certain amount of money to a certain cause. I’m all for causes, but when people vote to assign money they usually forget that the money needs to come from somewhere else. It’s very myopic. I usually just vote no.

We vote at the elementary school that’s here in the ‘hood. For years we’ve gone at lunchtime. This way we avoid any crowds. Usually there are a few people there; sometimes there are a few more. In 2008, when Obama was elected, it was fairly packed. There was actually a line. Both Kevin and I were thrilled to see that and to wait. I’ve never missed an election, even the smaller ones. I consider it my job as an informed member of the electorate. Besides, I feel more comfortable complaining when I know I had a say.

Today was no different. At about 12:15, we laced up our walking shoes and trucked on down to Red Oak Elementary. School was still in session. There were kids on the playground, at recess, kicking the soccer ball, running around, playing. We walked up the driveway and followed the flags to the auditorium. There were two tables, one labeled A – K, the other L – Z. We made our way to table two, signed in, got our ballots, each went to one of the little voting stands, drew lines between the arrows of the people we were choosing and then put the ballot through the electronic counter. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes.

Outside the auditorium, there were also quite a few kids sitting at the long tables often found on schoolyards and in cafeterias. They’re like elongated picnic tables. There was much chatter and the wonderfully melodic sound of children’s laughter. We glanced back and sitting on the ground behind a little girl at one of the tables, was a yellow Labrador retriever service dog. He was sitting perfectly still, wearing his red service dog vest. He turned his head to look at us. He yawned. Other kids ran by him, there was a great deal of commotion as there often is at an elementary school. He never moved from his post. 

I have long been and suspect I’ll always remain absolutely awed by the canine species. So trusting and true, so loving and in the best circumstances, so loved. I am also amazed by service dogs. Service dogs are trained extensively to help those with various disabilities. Since 1929, when the Seeing Eye Guide Dog organization was established, service dogs have walked beside us. By definition, a service dog has been trained to perform tasks that mitigate the disability of the dog's owner. Since each person experiences a disability differently and therefore has different needs for assistance, each dog is somewhat custom-trained for the individual it will be helping. A dog trained to assist a person in a wheelchair might be taught to pick up dropped items, open and close doors, and turn on and off lights. A dog trained to assist a person who can’t see well might be taught to avoid obstacles at the level of a person's eyes.

There are currently about 20,000 people in the country who use service dogs to help them to see, hear, be more mobile and be more engaged. There are service dogs that help detect seizures and low blood sugar levels, and Ssig dogs, or social signal dogs to help people challenged by autism. Psychiatric service dogs help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, bi-polar disorder, panic attacks and more.

Yesterday, on, my browser home page, there was a story about soldiers who suffer from disorders like PTSD getting service dogs, or not getting them even when they’re desperately needed. Army Specialist David Bandrowsky, profiled in the article, is lucky enough to have a service dog named Benny. They’ve been together since last November and Bandrowsky feels unsafe if the dog is not at his side. However, according to an Army policy instituted in January, limiting how soldiers can get service dogs, the program is now at great risk, as is Benny’s continued service to his master.

That’s where organizations like Dog Bless You can make a real difference. This group recently started a cause they’re calling Operation Freedom, Lucky’s Army. Lucky is the golden retriever who evidently runs the Facebook page. Their goal is to celebrate the spirit of 76 by donating 76 service dogs to war vets by the 4th of July. For every 1000 likes they get on their page, they donate one dog. As of today, they were up to 24 dogs.


Dog bless them, and dog bless all service dogs. They’re doing what dogs do best. Providing comfort, companionship, their eyes and ears; their instinct.

Perhaps the writer Gene Hill put it best when he wrote this:
“He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.) When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful. He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.”

A service dog in Italy, 1909

Just living it out loud.

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