Dog sitting

by Lorin Michel Thursday, May 31, 2012 12:44 AM

Our friend Maryann is moving to Florida to be closer to her family. She lives here in the OP at least until tomorrow morning and we’ve known her for quite some time. She raised Justin’s former good friend Alec – she’s Alec’s grandmother – and the boys used to pal around quite a bit. They met at summer camp when they were both around 8, and proceeded to spend a good deal of time at each other’s houses for the next few years. In high school, they drifted apart, but we stayed in touch with Maryann. She’s a single (grand)parent without a lot of family here, so we adopted her into our adoptive one. She spent holidays with us, and the occasional Fritini.

Several years ago, Alec moved to Florida to be with his mother. Both of Maryann’s daughters live there as does her ex-husband. Her mother, who is close to 90, lives out here in an assisted living facility. Maryann is flying back to get her in a couple of weeks and moving her into a new facility in Florida as well. Soon her entire life will be near Ocala.

Today the movers are at her house; tomorrow she hits the road. She’ll be driving across the southern route, basically across interstate 10, with her daughter Jennifer (Alec’s mother who’s been here helping), her cat Patches, her turtle Dennis and her two dogs, Lucky and Tessie. Quite the menagerie. Because it was going to be so hectic at the house, I offered our backyard for the dogs, someplace where they could run around, have shade, nice cool water to drink and she wouldn’t have to worry. The backyard is completely walled in; it’s impossible for them to get out.

Sleeping on the patio

Which didn’t stop Tessie, the little one, from trying. Maryann had dropped them off around 11 am and they immediately stormed into the back. Tessie is a corgi/sheltie mix. She has the squat little body and short little legs of a corgi but the long fur and coloring of a sheltie. She’s a cutie. She’s also small enough to slip under part of the gate and run down the side of the house. At the end of said side is another gate that’s impossible for her to get under so she had to turn around, trot back up the side and then pace a bit because as easily as she slipped one way, it didn’t occur to her that she could slip the other way as well. She did this several times.

Throughout the day, they’ve been alternating between sleeping, slurping and patrolling the property. They decided it might be fun to check out Kevin’s studio and when the door was left unlatched, Tessie nosed her way through. Lucky, who catches on quickly, did the same. Soon Kevin and I were on the outside looking in at two dogs looking out. It was quite comical.

Tessie took to lying underneath the table, nudged up against the chairs. Lucky got himself wedged between the built-in barbecue and the house, on his side with his feet against the stone. His tail was flopping up and down on the ground as we talked to him, coaxing, but he couldn’t get himself out. I walked around to the other side, and the other end, while Kevin stayed with the boy’s front end to pull while I pushed. We got him out and he turned around and walked right back through the space. Before the day was out, both dogs were using it as a pass-through, a secret canyon known only to them.

Tessie and Lucky, in Kevin's studio

Lucky’s mix is something we’re not sure of. I’m not even sure Maryann knows. He might have some Labrador in him, perhaps even some, believe it or not, Chihuahua. I know; it sounds like a strange combination. But he has the eyes of one of those little dudes but more the physique of the bigger of the breed. He’s a medium sized dog, maybe 35 pounds. Every time Kevin or I talked to him, he immediately flopped down, flipped over on his back and waited for a belly rub, which he got.

Tessie is a kisser. She kisses all the time, standing on her little hind legs, reaching toward the sky so that she’s nearly perpendicular to the ground just to kiss.

They’re both just loves.

Lucky

Maryann will be coming to get them probably early this evening, after the movers have finished emptying her house. I imagine she’ll be both elated and depressed. Moving out is always difficult, stressful. Then there’s the drive that will take days. Just going across Texas alone will take two. But then she gets to move into her brand new villa, a small bungalow really, with two bedrooms, two baths and a carport with room for a car, and a golf cart. She retired just two weeks ago; now she’s taking her zoo with her to live near family, to make new friends and to enjoy that retirement.

We’ll miss her. And we’ll miss the two little mutts currently growling in the backyard. I think a bird flew through a minute ago; perhaps Squire Squirrel made an appearance. It’s all new to them. It will all be new for the next week or so, and then it will be home.

Bon voyage, Maryann and friends. We wish you safe travels, inflated tires, and health and happiness for all. Keep living it out loud.  

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Remember me remembering you

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 28, 2012 1:53 AM

On many of the roads around California, there are countless impromptu memorials set up by the loved ones of someone killed in that spot. Flowers, stuffed bears, photographs and often a cross appear seemingly overnight. I’ve never seen anyone actually placing such a memorial but I’ve often come across one that wasn’t there the previous day. Mostly they appear on side roads, roads less travelled than freeways. They’re sweet mementos, a way to remember someone, a way to share grief.

Larger versions of these memorials spring up every time someone of stature dies and the public needs to express their sympathies and their empathy with the family. One of the largest in memory was the memorial that sprang up outside of Kensington Palace when Princess Diana was killed some 15 years ago. A few bouquets of flowers grew to be thousands, accompanied by cards, photographs, and more. It was touching enough that it prompted a visit from the always stoic Queen Elizabeth.

I never fail to notice these memorials, or to be touched by them. I often wonder who it was that died, how and why. Death is still, to me, such a fate-filled phenomenon, especially when it visits someone young and full of life, at least until that fateful trip around a corner on Mulholland going a little too fast, like a princess speeding through a Paris tunnel in the middle of the night. I marvel at the random nature of it. I suppose if you spend too much time dwelling on that randomness, you can become bogged down with it, become depressed. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I choose to err on the side of positive whenever possible. It’s better than the alternative, and worrying and wondering doesn’t matter a damn. Such is the nature of fate.

This weekend is, of course, Memorial Day, a commemoration for those who have fallen in service defending our country. Interestingly it began in 1865 as Decoration Day when freed slaves celebrated their liberation. It included a memorial for Abraham Lincoln who was assassinated that same year. Because of the enormous number of Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the civil war, Decoration Day was soon expanded, with events held in the North in 183 cemeteries in 1868 and 336 cemeteries in 1869. Decoration Day changed to Memorial Day in 1882 but was not officially declared by Congress until June 28, 1968. Most children today consider it the official start of summer since it’s starting to get warm and it’s just a matter of another week or two until they’re officially out of school. Most adults with children think the same, though probably in not quite as giddy a way. Many who have family members and friends who have lost someone in a war or other conflict take this time to visit grave sites, and to remember those people with love.

I haven’t lost anyone I know in a war. My mother’s father was killed in World War II but she was three at the time. But I have lost a number of people that I loved dearly and who I continue to think about, to miss, and to wonder what they might be doing if they were still here.

Today, I’m celebrating my father, who died ten years ago this month. I think of him all the time but no longer in grief; more just sadness. If he was still with us, he’d be on the golf course. Maybe by now, he’d be in the clubhouse having a cold pint of Sam Adams.

My Aunt Eleanor who died when I was 14. I still remember her riding the rollercoaster with me at Kennywood Park in Pennsylvania. She was the only one who would.

My grandmothers. My dad’s mom who preceded him in death by 6 months, a little dynamo of a woman who could whip up a batch of fudge like nobody’s business, who often cleared the table before anyone was done eating, and who stood about 5’1” tall, 5’6” with her beehive hairdo. My mom’s mom who was a holy terror when she was younger but who mellowed with age. I always thought she was born into the wrong era, that she would have been happier as someone of my generation, who could have been independent without having to explain why. I still remember her telling Kevin at my sister’s wedding, when he asked her if he could get her anything: “Yes. A whisky sour.”

My great Aunt Trene, my dad’s mom’s sister who died not too long ago, the last of that generation. She would probably be playing golf with my dad, and also having a beer with him in the clubhouse.

My Tori Lynn, my much loved cat who was diagnosed with cancer when she was 10. We staved it off for a while, but she eventually grew tired of the fight and I had to make the agonizing decision to have her put to sleep. It was the first time I ever had to do that.

Our beloved Maguire, our big old bear of a boy, our vintage puppy. He was with us for just over 15 years, and his loss has scarred us deeply. He left us on March 6, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t miss him, when I don’t long to hear his tags hitting the floor as he rolls over, his bark from the window welcoming us home, the squeak of a chosen toy as he plays. There isn’t a day that I don’t remember.

There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t still love all the ones I celebrate today. Memorial day, then, can be every day. And every day spent remembering is a day spent living it out loud. 

A sneeze is just a sneeze

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 7, 2012 11:39 PM

I never had allergies when I was young. I think my brother did, but I can’t be sure. I don’t know all of the ailments that either my brother or sister suffered from because I was older and mostly didn’t care. Unless it was something serious, it didn’t involve me. Selfish, I realize, but also common.

I think my mother also suffered and perhaps still suffers from allergies. She called it hay fever, though we never lived in or even near a barn. Evidently hay fever has very little to do with hay and has everything to do with allergic rhinitis, a common affliction that is very similar to a cold. There is congestion, a runny nose, sinus pressure and quite a bit of sneezing. It’s caused by an allergic response to airborne substances like pollen. Hay is rarely an allergen and it does not cause fever. Nevertheless, I distinctly remember mom complaining that her hay fever was acting up as she sneezed into her 47th Kleenex of the day. She was also forever stashing tissues in awkward places should she require one in an emergency. I can’t tell you how many times I put on a jacket of hers only to discover unused – thankfully – tissues in the pocket. Ditto the sleeves of her bathrobe.

Sneezing is one of those odd functions unique to mammals. Humans sneeze when they have something like dust or unwelcome germs stuck in their nose. Dr. James Banks of Arnold, Maryland calls sneezing “nature’s broom.” It’s the body’s way of sweeping out tickling allergies, illness and other irritations. Animals sneeze when their nose is irritated. Maguire used to sneeze every once in a while, often when a stray piece of fur or hair or dust would dance across his nose. He’d roll his lips back to show all his teeth, drop his nose to the floor quickly, and shake his whole head as he blustered his way through at least one good blast. It was adorable.

A typical sneeze, technically called sternutation, often starts as an electrical signal that alerts the brain that there’s a trespasser in the sinuses. That’s when a coordinated attack takes place. Eyes are forced closed and facial, chest and abdominal muscles contract so we don’t blow something out of whack. A typical sneeze has been clocked at about 100 miles per hour. Hurricane force. Sneezes often come out in groups. One woman, Donna Griffiths from Worcestershire, England, sneezed for 975 days, the longest sneezing episode on record. That’s over two and a half years.

I sneeze a minimum of six times when I start. If I’m standing, I have to steady myself so as not to blow out my kidneys or ribs. I’m not sure what causes my sneezing; perhaps it’s late onset allergies. I hear that’s fairly common. Perhaps it’s little particles of dust, the ones that float through the sunlight. Perhaps it’s residual pet dander; my vintage puppy has been gone for just over two months now. I doubt it.

I also sneeze when I pluck my eyebrows, or when I’m exposed to a sudden, bright light like the sun. I’m in good company. Nearly 35 percent of people react the same way. Curiously, I don’t tend to sneeze when I have a cold, but then I don’t have a cold very often and I sneeze All. The. Time. Daily, in fact. I think sometimes as I’m experiencing a particularly continuous bout and stuffing tissues into my pockets that I have turned into my mother. I look more like her than I ever did before. I hear her voice coming out of my mouth along with her words, phrases I vowed I would never say when I was young like: “Do you think money grows on trees?”

Let me just say that these are not bad things. These are mostly traits I celebrate.

I refuse, however, to turn into my mother when it comes to sneezing. She has always tried to suppress her sneeze, keep it quiet, muffled. It sounds like she’s swallowing a hummingbird in mid-flutter. I always thought that was a little dangerous. Sneezing should be let out, loud and proud.

Take my husband. Please. When he sneezes, usually and thankfully just once, the glass in the windows rattle because of the shear force of it. It nearly begs for a blessing to be said if for no other reason than to save the poor windows. 

The most common blessing, God bless you, is not said, contrary to popular belief, because your heart stops when you sneeze. It doesn’t. Some think it originated in Rome during the bubonic plague when Pope Gregory VII suggested the phrase as an offering of prayer after a person sneezed, protecting them from otherwise certain death. It may also have originated because ancient man thought sneezes expelled the spirit from the body. A blessing protected both the sneezer and surrounding others. Something is definitely expelled but I don’t think it’s my spirit.

I, being the non-religious type that I am, prefer to offer up a “dog bless you” when someone sneezes. It seems more probable, and hopeful. It also just solidifies my belief that a sneeze isn’t anything evil. It’s just blessedly normal.

Or to paraphrase the lyrics from Casablanca’s “As time goes by:”
You must remember this; a sneeze is just a sneeze, a burst is just a burst; not fundamentally cursed; the nose goes first.

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My house is clean and I don't like it at all

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 17, 2012 9:36 PM

It occurs to me that I need to clean my house because I have company coming this week. On Thursday night, my wonderful sister Khristan and my equally fabulous niece Shawn will be arriving for a five-night, four-day stay at our decidedly 3-star establishment, their will-they-or-won’t-they question having been answered decisively this morning. They’re coming!

So I have to clean.

Now our little house isn’t that dirty. Since it’s just Kevin and I, the only two rooms that really ever get a little cranky in the mess department are the kitchen, for obvious reasons, and the master bath. I like to cook and do so almost nightly though admittedly some nights are much more elaborate and thus messy than others. For instance, this past Saturday night I grilled salmon and topped it with a blueberry garlic sauce. Blueberries stain. Luckily we don’t have any white in the kitchen anymore. Several years ago, we redid the countertops and the cabinets. The cook-top stove is still a little on the white side though I think of it as light gray, and it’s made of a resin that doesn’t stain.

On Sunday night, I made a pork loin roast with a fennel/vermouth/sour cream sauce, and served roasted fingerling potatoes with Dijon mustard greens as the go-along. The prep was more messy than the cooking; the cleanup equally so.

Luckily I have a husband who, while he doesn’t like to cook, does like to help, and is an exquisite cleaner-upper. During the week, the meals tend to be more tame, and more often than not involve the grill. Still, the kitchen gets used: for coffee in the morning, a lunchtime rendezvous, and then dinner.

The master bath, well, that’s fairly self-explanatory. From hair brushing to teeth brushing, to makeup to general primping, oh, and dirty laundry, it gets messy.

When Justin lived here, his room was mostly an abomination. Clothes strewn everywhere, papers and books piled high, trash thrown on the floor rather than in the provided receptacle just because. The kitchen also got more use, as did the full bath upstairs. Justin’s bath. I had a cleaning crew who came in twice a month to scour the aforementioned kitchen and two and half baths. They also vacuumed and mopped the hard wood floor because in addition to a messy teen, we also had a dog. And while Maguire, in his older years, didn’t tear around the house any longer, he did manage to make it rather dirty. From slurping his water all over the kitchen floor and occasionally pushing some of his food over the edge of his bowl to the toys he would tear apart and leave in piles of white stuffing, discarded strings and empty plush carcasses around the house, to fur. And pet dander. And dog slobber. He was a big dog and his wonderful presence in our home also necessitated cleaning, a lot. Vacuuming the carpet in the master bedroom several times each week because the carpet was wearing his discarded fur coat. Kevin mopped the floor in the great room every day to dislodge the telltale signs of the vintage puppy, namely dried drool. And then there was the dander. We could see it dancing in the streaming sunlight, especially when he would stand and shake. Dander led to dust.

Since he’s been gone the house is remarkably cleaner. The dust seems to be less than usual; there is no dog fur or drool on the floor. As I was looking at the tables, the entertainment center, the picture frames, and the other pieces of furniture in the house, it occurred to me that I haven’t dusted in a couple of weeks. [Full disclosure: I’m not a very good housekeeper] The house really isn’t as horribly dusty as it should be considering. In fact, unless you look really, really, really, really closely, it looks pretty clean. I don’t like it. I would give anything for fur and drool and torn-apart dog toys and slopped over water and dander-dust.

But I do love the fact that my sister and niece are coming. And I do love the fact that even though it doesn’t look bad, the house will look even better come Thursday. Shiny. Sparkly. Smelling fine. With no hair and unfortunately no fur.

So I celebrate the clean, but I’m still pining for the fur. 

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Three weeks

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 27, 2012 8:04 PM

It was three weeks ago today that we lost our beloved Maguire. Twenty-one days since we last smelled his fur and stroked his head, since we could lie down on the floor beside him and hug on him. We’re doing better but we’re not great. I find myself in tears at the strangest times, and I struggle with thinking that it’s OK for me to still be so destroyed by his loss and feeling that I really need to move on. I wonder if it has to do with so much of society still thinking that the loss of a pet doesn’t truly constitute the loss of a family member. But Maguire was family. In many ways he was better than most people I know. His love was unconditional; his presence constant and reassuring.

We still come into the house quietly so as not to scare him. Once he started to lose his hearing we had to be careful. More than once, we’d just open the door normally, barreling in from the garage or through the front door and he’d react, even if just for a second until he realized who it was, with fear, jumping up, ears pinned back, tail tucked. But we learned quickly. He would sleep on the rug just inside the door and we always checked to see if he was awake. If he wasn’t, we’d call his name quietly, which is funny because he couldn’t hear it, and we’d tap gently on the floor. What he couldn’t hear he could feel. Those big beautiful brown eyes would roll open slowly, focus, and I swear he’d smile. Hi, guys.

Kevin still comes into the house at walk time, catching himself just before he says: “HB? Wanna go?” HB is his pet name for me; wanna go was code for time to trot the pup. Trot the pup being a code we came up with after Maguire learned, many years ago, the word “walk.” We couldn’t say it, in any tone of voice, without him starting to spin in circles and prance in place. He could be upstairs, asleep on pride landing, and I’d say the word ‘walk’ downstairs in the bedroom and I’d hear the rumble of his 80 pounds flying down the stairs. We started spelling it, but he figured that out too. Trot the pup was our last code, and it worked because he started to lose his hearing. Then we made walking movements with our fingers. Maguire, it seems, knew sign language.

Each time I walk down the stairs from my loft, I expect to see him sprawled on the floor in the living room, somewhere between the bottom of the stairs, the back door and the kitchen. He always picked the most strategic spot so that both Kevin and I would have to walk past or over him in order to get anywhere. Most of the time, he’d wake up, raise his head and give us a look that said: “Where are you going? And will there be cheese?”

I am forever disappointed by these descents because he’s not in the living room, nor is he in the bedroom. I don’t hear him slurping up his water and then stopping for a bit of voyeurism as he stared out the kitchen window watching the neighbors, in their cars or on foot, go by. Eventually he’d make his way around the table and back out into the room. The kitchen table is a pub table so it’s high. It sits in our bay window in the kitchen and he could always walk behind it, next to the window. He used to be able to back up but once his rear legs stopped working as well, backing up became more difficult. Sometimes he’d get caught under the table especially if one of the chairs was pulled out slightly and he thought he could go through rather than around. He’d stand there patiently until someone noticed his predicament and moved the chair out of the way so he could saunter off and find a toy.

I miss the sounds he made, the harrumph exhale as all the air pushed out of his body when he laid down; the clank of his tags on the floor. The sigh, like his life was so hard. The way he clicked across the floor, jazz puppy, his front feet high-stepping, his back sort of dragging. It was like listening to a drum and a brush. The way he’d stop at the entrance to the bedroom at night as we were getting ready for bed. He’d had a drink, he’d checked to make sure all the doors were locked, that the house was secure. And then, once he had our attention, he’d bound the short distance toward his bed, which still sits in the corner, and ram it with his head, lifting it up again and again, spilling all of the toys onto the floor. Then he’d look at us: “My job here is done.” And lay down to sleep.

I miss … him.

Three weeks since he left us. Each day gets a little bit easier and little bit harder. I suspect it will for a while yet. My brain understands he’s gone; my heart still breaks in a million different ways. I know it but I don’t want to believe it. I guess that’s called grief. It will pass when it passes. In the mean time, I will celebrate the memory of our boy. I will celebrate the joy he brought. I will celebrate the incredible effect he had on all who knew him.

I will celebrate Maguire.

Drawing by Maguire's best friend and second dad, Roy Guzman

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And they call it puppy love

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 17, 2012 10:35 PM

Regular readers know I’m a dog lover. Regular readers also know we lost our beloved Maguire almost two weeks ago. Time is helping though his presence is missed greatly as is his personality, his beautiful spirit, the sound of his tags hitting the floor as he rolled over or tapping the ceramics of his water or food bowl as he munched.

My friend Diane is a great friend to all creatures, especially those of the rescue-dog variety. She has long been active in the animal rights movement and has put in more than her share of years working to help neglected, abused and abandoned animals. She herself has two wonderful dogs: a poodle mix (at least I think he’s a mix) named Henri, a very distinguished little guy with curly white fur and big dark eyes, and Tommy, a pit bull with maybe a little boxer thrown in for good measure. He’s a stout little dude, sort of brown and white, with the large head – pumpkin head, Diane calls it – of a pit bull. But he exhibits none of the characteristics. He’s docile, gentle. And he’s having some joint issues so today he was hobbling around. Maybe it was the rain. Diane also has two cats, Fiona who’s black and Roswell who’s white.

Terrier mom

And in her garage, she fosters moms and their puppies until they’re all healthy and old enough to be adopted. She is one of the first calls for certain groups who patrol “kill shelters.” Evidently there are a number of shelters that quickly euthanize female dogs that arrive with tiny puppies in tow. Diane to the rescue. Dog bless her.

Her current litter is of the terrier and retriever persuasion. Or maybe it’s cocker spaniel. Either way, there’s a lovely and timid mom who has some terrier in her as well as something else, and her five rambunctious puppies. Diane emailed me earlier in the week, asking if maybe a romp with some little fur balls might help to ease some of our sorrow. I’ll admit, I was hesitant. Was it too soon? Even for bouncing, biting balls of fluff? I decided I could handle it without falling apart.

Kevin was going to come with me, but he’s been having a hard time the last few days. He misses his boy and sheepishly told me last night that he just doesn’t really want to see any dogs right now since he can’t see his own. I understand. We all process grief and loss differently.

Today was cold, windy and brutal with rain. Torrential at times, it bounced off of our street, blasted the roof of the house, knocked incessantly at the windows to be allowed in. I did some Saturday morning things around the house, changed the sheets, did some laundry, washed the wine glasses that don’t go into the dishwasher and collect, instead, on the counter. Showered, put on a little makeup, pulled on jeans, a sweater and boots, and off I went.

Waiting to come play

Driving east on the 101, the rain clouds were heavy and black, nearly touching the road in front of me. To the north, the sun was streaming through, glinting off the wet pavement. I exited at Laurel Canyon, went north and within minutes I was in front of Diane’s house.

I had packed up all of Maguire’s food and cookies. We didn’t want to just throw it away and with all of the dogs lucky enough to stay with her and Gene even for a short while, we thought she might be able to use it. It was Kevin’s idea; it was a good one. She met me at the car and I handed her a huge bag filled with dry food bags, unopened canned food, and dog cookies. She gave me a hug and we started toward the garage where she keeps the puppies, walked in and there they were, all lined up, ready for some puppy love.

It was just what I needed, to sit on an old fleece blanket on the cement floor and have five squiggly, wriggly puppies climb on me, claw at me, bite on me and hop around aimlessly on the floor, fall over, crawl over and yip and elicit quietly ferocious puppy growls as they rolled all over each other. For an hour their energy level was high, and then, they were done. Two of them snuggled up on my lap and started to snooze. Mom disappeared behind the kennel to get away from them, one tried in vain to keep his eyes open and the other two curled up on Diane. These little warm bodies, barely six weeks old, taking short little breaths, creating a surprising amount of heat.

On my lap

I felt some of the sorrow leave my own body. There was something cathartic about spending a couple of hours in the presence of new life. It didn’t diminish the loss of Maguire – I know we will always miss him – but it did reinforce the truth that life goes on. Today, life was embodied in these five little dudes and their mom. Tomorrow, who knows?

As I drove home with the sun once again glaring down through the rain, making it nearly impossible to see the road, I smiled. I miss my boy terribly; he still breaks my heart. But tomorrow will be better.

And today, there were puppies.

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The subject was roses

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 8, 2012 11:34 PM

We have six rose bushes in our backyard tucked against the wall. None are in bloom right now but when they are, the backyard alights in colors of blood red, gentle pink, sterling violet and glowing yellow. They’re glorious when they bloom, filling the backyard with brilliant color that is alive and lush. Their fragrance drifts through the house on a soft breeze, light and floral and lovely.

Roses have a long history that stretches to some 35 million years ago, though the cultivation of them began much more recently, in Asia around 5000 years ago. Greek mythology tells us of the goddess of flowers, Chloris. One day while Chloris was cleaning in the forest, she found the lifeless body of a nymph and to bring the nymph back to life, Chloris turned to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, who gave the nymph beauty. Dionysus, the god of wine, added a sweet nectar, and the three graces provided charm, brightness and joy. Finally, Zephyr, the West wind, blew away the clouds so that the sun god, Apollo, could shine and make the flower bloom. The rose was born. Hindu’s have another version. In theirs, the creator of the world Brahma, and the protector of the world, Vishnu, argued over which flower was more most beautiful. Vishnu chose the rose. Thousands of years later, in the tombs of Egypt, wreaths made with flowers, roses among them, were discovered.

Roses became synonymous with excess during the Roman Empire. During the 15th century, the factions fighting to control England used it as a symbol with the white rose representing York and the red representing Lancaster. In the 17th century, roses were considered legal tender. Napoleon’s wife Josephine loved roses so much she established an extensive collection containing more than 250 rose varieties.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, all roses were pink or white. The red rose first came from China in 1800. Bright yellow roses entered the vase in 1900. Since then, the colors have come to symbolize very real emotions. Red means love, pink is thank you, yellow equals joy, orange is desire, peach is appreciation, lavender enchantment, black death; white roses are sometimes called the flower of light.

White roses from Maryann, to celebrate Maguire

Last night we ordered out again. I simply haven’t been in the mood to cook the last few days. Kevin called Fresh Brothers in Westlake for a smorgasbord of edible items mostly bad. Chicken wings, pizza with mushrooms, French fries and a salad to balance it all. He hung up; I poured a glass of wine. There was a knock at the door and we both looked at each other. It wasn’t possible that the food was here that quickly. Even if they’d managed to cook it, it’s at least a 10 minute drive from Westlake Village. As I stood in the kitchen as Kevin went to answer the door.

It was Maryann, with a dozen white roses, brought to celebrate Maguire. We all hugged and cried, then got to talking … about the dog, about her impending move, about life and death. We had a glass of wine together and Fresh Brothers eventually arrived and though we invited her to share our not-very-healthy meal, she declined. She had her own dogs to get home to. Lucky and Tessie. They needed to be walked; needed some attention paid.

I cut about an inch from the stem of each rose. I poured the packet of whatever it is into the bottom of a vase and filled it with water before placing the flowers inside. I stood and looked at them, inhaled their fragrance and embraced what they symbolized. Light, beginnings, purity and love. Perfect.

We were sad, we remain heartbroken over the loss of our beautiful Maguire. But our friends and family have made it so much easier to bear.

Oh, bear. Honey bear.

Celebrate him. Celebrate that. 

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Celebrating Maguire

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 6, 2012 10:57 PM

“Let's get a dog.” With those words, my husband sealed our fate. 

I had two caveats. OK, three caveats. I wanted to get an older female from the shelter; I wanted a longer haired dog with floppy ears; and I couldn't go with Kevin to find the one who met all of the criteria. I would approve or disapprove of whomever he found, but I knew if I walked through the shelter too many times, I would want to take them all home. If Kevin could do the hard work of narrowing down my choices, then I'd be OK, or so I theorized. He agreed and dutifully went every Saturday morning for some number of weeks while I stayed home in bed. 

Then came Saturday, February 15. He and Justin burst into the house with news. They had found the perfect dog! Then Kevin broke the news to me: it was male. But the dog they had found, that he knew was “our dog,” also wasn't older.

“How not older?” I asked.

“He's a puppy.”

Off we went to the Agoura Animal Shelter. Justin scampered ahead, then kneeled down in front of a cage as he waited for us, pointing excitedly. There, in the corner, on his back, feet in the air, snoring to beat the band, was a little black ball of fur, 8 weeks old and the cutest thing I had ever seen. We couldn't take him home that day because he'd just been brought in on Friday and there was a 72-hour hold in case someone claimed him. We wouldn't be able to get him until Monday morning. We bided our time; we went to Pet Smart and bought every puppy related thing we could find. A tiny collar, a bake-it-to-make it temporary nametag, food, toys, a leash, and a kennel since we had decided to kennel train him. We didn't have a name though. 

On Monday morning, we were at the shelter before they opened. When someone finally arrived around 7, Kevin jumped out of the car. The lady politely told him that there were no adoptions before 7:30. “That's fine,” he said. “I just want you to know that I'm here for #19, in case anyone else comes. I want you to know that we were here first.”

The pup was ours within the hour. He was stinky and loving and adorable, burying his head under my chin as I carried him to the car. We named him Maguire because on the drive home, as I was holding him, he pushed his nose into the center console of Kevin's BMW, nosing around for something, and came out with a dollar bill in his mouth. Show me the money.

That was February 17, 1997. He grew up with us, starting his life first in our townhouse in Calabasas and then moving a short time later to the OP where he had a yard. I remember when we first moved in, and I think the sprinklers had run. It was a Sunday morning and we let him outside in the backyard, which is fenced so he could roam about as he pleased and we didn't have to worry about him getting lost. A short time later, I went to the back door to call him. Eventually he came running, so damned pleased with himself. He couldn't wait to show me what he'd been doing. 

Which was digging a hole in the mud. He was covered from the bottoms of his front pads to the tops of his front legs and even into his chest. Kevin and I just stood there and laughed as he wagged his tail wanting to come in, maybe get a cookie or two. Instead, Kevin filled a bucket of warm water and squeezed his way out the door, being careful to not let Maguire in. Then he proceeded to put the dog's front paws into the bucket. That pleased look changed to complete rejection in a flash. 

Over the years, we went through countless toys. He loved the flexible plastic toys at first. He would get hold of one and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until he punctured it. Then he would start tearing it apart, one little piece at a time, spitting each piece into a neat pile off to the side. When he'd find the squeaker, he'd pull that out too, and then he was done. New toy please. As he got older, he preferred plush toys, though they proved to be no less indestructible. He would chew at the faux fur, nibbling and pulling until he could work a thread free. It looked like he was flossing. He'd pull the thread until he could unravel part of the body, exposing a hole. Then he'd proceed to pull out all of the stuffing, one biteful at a time and deposit that off to the side. As with the plastic toys, once he got to the squeaker and removed it, discarding it onto the floor, he was done. He had killed his prey. 

Maguire was never much of a dog person but he was a people person. He didn't care if you were a small child or an older adult, he was always happy to see you, even more so if you had a treat for him. He loved that all the kids came to visit on Halloween and he greeted every one personally. He loved delivery people like the UPS guy whom we affectionately named “hey buddy” because that's always how he greeted Maguire, along with a great roughing of the ears. 

He had his routines and to break with routine would elicit much guilting on his part. We pee'd in the front yard first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In between, backyard pee breaks were OK. There was a big cookie in the morning after the front yard pee, and treats throughout the day just because he was so wonderful. Every night around 7:30, there was a walk. He was never big on eating his own food and preferred chicken, pasta, ham, cheese, pizza bones (crusts), and a baguette, sometimes cheese with the baguette. 

He never got on the furniture, but he did like our bed. Often, when he was younger, we'd find him on Kevin's side, on his back, feet in the air basking in the afternoon sun streaming through the blinds. As he got older he just snoozed at the foot of the bed or the foot of the stairs. He liked to be up against things. I think it gave him comfort. 

Maguire and mom. He's definitely not on the couch.

We lost our beloved boy today. He never recovered from the terrible seizures he had on Friday night, and this morning we made the agonizing decision to let him go. He wasn't in any pain, but he wasn't Maguire any longer. He was tired; there was no spirit left in his beautiful brown eyes. Once he was gone, he looked peaceful, at rest.

This afternoon, as I was standing at the back door, looking for my dog and feeling the crushing weight of the empty house and my emptier soul, I watched a blue bird peck the ground where Maguire would often lay. I wondered if the bird somehow knew that the big dog, that tremendous blustering ball of life, was no longer here, so it was safe. As I watched, it flew away. It wasn't the same without Maguire.

He was with us for 15 plus years and we are forever grateful for every second, and for the love and joy he brought to our family, to our lives. As I always joked, he was the best thing to ever happen to four feet. I'll believe that forever. 

We love you, honey bear. Sleep now. Sleep now.

Our boy, just two weeks ago; with Honk

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Dog tweets for Maguire

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 4, 2012 10:33 PM

Kevin and I were walking today, trying to keep busy. We haven’t been doing a very good job of that the last few days. Maguire is still in the hospital, still pretty out of it. We remain devastated but hopeful. But it was an absolutely glorious day here. The sun was bright and warm, just a hint of a breeze making the grass sway. Kids began zooming by on bicycles fairly early as we stood in the kitchen sipping coffee, missing our vintage pup. Several people walked by with dogs and we both looked at each other and said: “We have to get out of the house.”

Off we went. It was probably 9:30, and already edging toward 80º. We walked a little slower than normal. Our energy level has virtually disappeared and neither of us expects it to return to normal any time soon. Even when we get Maguire home, we’re not going to be able to go off and leave him. Not for a while anyway, not until he’s used to his new reality. Not until we’re comfortable that he’ll be OK while we’re out.

We went up through the neighborhood. I found myself envious of all the people out with their dogs. I haven’t felt that way before. Maguire can’t walk as far as he once could; he no longer runs across a field to play with other dogs. But knowing he was home, standing in the window, watching for us to return was always just fine. He had earned the right to be the elder statesman, to stay home because he could; because he should.

We continued up and finally rounded the top of the hill on Bowfield. As we did, a big Golden Retriever who was lying on the grass while his person worked on the car, raised his head, watching us, not knowing if he should be concerned. Eventually he jumped up and ran forward a bit though he didn’t bark. He just wanted us to know that he knew we were there. He perched his front paws up on a rock, raising himself up so he could see us better, ears alert. We couldn’t help but smile. Once we walked past, I looked back. He stood for another minute, then got down and bounded back to his house.

“Can’t you just see Maguire doing that when he was younger?” I said to Kevin. Nostalgia.

Behind a fence in the house above us, we heard a dog bark. Soon another one answered. Far off, we thought we heard yet another answer. Kevin started to chuckle a bit, a half-hearted laugh. We were both just too tired to manage anything more than that.

“Hear that?” he said. “That’s social media. Those dogs are tweeting. They heard what happened to Maguire and they’re spreading the word.”

[youtube:iIeL2qmq93w]

In 1961, Disney released one of its classics: 101 Dalmatians. The story was about the evil Cruella DeVille stealing Dalmatian puppies in order to make herself a spotted coat. She made the mistake, though, of stealing the 15 London pups of Pongo and Purdita. Pongo sent out the word one night on a walk, and the chain of bark communication – the twilight bark – located the puppies. Chaos and hilarity ensued.

Kevin’s pronouncement that it was social media, perhaps the original, couldn’t have been more appropriate. And thinking that these neighborhood dogs were spreading the word to other dogs in neighboring ‘hoods that one of their own was hurt, sick and needed some canine good wishes, well it made us feel a little bit better. At that point, under the warm sun of this Sunday, we needed the possibility.

Tonight, we visited our puppy again. He was actually a little bit better. He raised his head, held himself up a bit, even showed some interest in eating some of the boiled chicken we brought. He didn’t, but the fact that he thought about it was progress. He’s still having a lot of trouble, still hooked up to all manner of machines and IVs, but tonight when we visited, we saw a hint of Maguire.

We’re hoping he’ll come home tomorrow. There’s that word again: hope. It’s one of our favorites these last few days.

That and the canine chain of bark communication we experienced today. Keep it up, guys. We think Maguire heard it loud and clear. He knows everyone’s cheering his recovery.

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Wind song

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 2, 2012 9:28 PM

I’m sitting here in my office at 4:53 on a Fritini, the first Fritini we’ve had in about six weeks – all together now: All hail the return of Fritini! – and I’m listening to yet another ravaging wind as it blasts through barren trees and makes my wind chimes clank as much as they sing and for some reason the power of the wind is reminding me of how much I have to be thankful for on this second day of March.

My husband who’s downstairs mopping the floor. Yes. You read that correctly. He’s mopping the floor, in anticipation of guests. That, and the fact that it hasn’t been done in a couple of days and we have a dog. I suspect that’s enough of a visual.

My dog, who’s still motoring around at the incredible age of 15. We’ve had some health issues with him lately, and last night he had a horrific seizure, but today he’s back to himself. I hear him, also downstairs, walking across the newly mopped floor.

My kid, who’s coming home this month to attend some sort of a theatre conference in Long Beach. He’ll be home but he’ll be away most of the time, just here for dinner. That’s OK since we have to work anyway to pay for things like flying him home for a long weekend in order to attend a conference.

My mom, whose back is finally, finally, finally starting to feel good. She’s antiquing, shopping, moving better, more easily and without pain. This is a very good development.

My sister who’s coming to visit me next month and bringing my delightful niece. It will be fun to have them here, to show them around, do some California things, maybe even catch a show which reminds me that I have to find out what shows will be in town toward the end of April.

My friends, two of whom will be coming tonight to imbibe, two of whom are in Hawaii, two others of whom are in the land where they make merry and where everyone now has the ability to get married; and others of whom are scattered here and there. One of whom I’ll see next week for her birthday; others of whom I owe phone calls. They’re always on my mind but time often runs through the hourglass before I can get to the phone.

Note to self: be better.

The winds are actually starting to dissipate a bit. They seem to swell in intensity when the sun starts to dip behind the hills as it descends into the ocean. Once it’s gone, the winds go with it. The wind chimes are stilling, just a hint of their song remains. And none of the clank. This is what’s good about clank. It turns to song if you wait long enough.

I’m ready for the weekend, ready to catch up on the sleep that I’ve been deprived of this week for circumstances beyond my control, ready to relax and spend some quality time doing absolutely nothing. Not that it will happen. I suffer from not being able to truly do nothing; something is always happening, even if I’m reading a book. But I’ll settle for that kind of something.

And I’ll celebrate the wonder and joy that is my life, and all those who populate it, both near and afar.

There’s the wind again. And it’s playing my song. 

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