Dogs in the 'hood

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 13, 2011 9:40 PM

Like many small neighborhoods in California, in the country, in the world, we have a lot of dogs. Big ones, small ones, puppies both new and vintage; dogs with lovely personalities and those who could use a lesson or two in manners and attitude. Dogs who bark, dogs who whine, ones who squeal and howl at the moon in the middle of the day, like the five little monsters who live on the corner and fight each other for window space. We fear for our ankles every time we pass by, but we still smile. We love dogs.

We’re also suckers for dogs. They bring instant smiles and a desire to crouch down for a quick scratch behind the ears. For the dogs, too. We’ve also been known to assist a dog in distress, like today, when as we rounded the corner of Wiggin and Pesaro, on our way down toward the park, we spotted a big black dog, standing in a front yard, no owner or even possible owner in sight.

A Maddie-like dog

I immediately pointed her out (the “her” being a fact we ascertained shortly thereafter). Kevin hadn’t seen her. I called to her quietly, walking up on the sidewalk as she watched me intently but not fearfully. She stood proudly, staring at me with her big brown eyes and her slightly pointed ears that curled over at the top. It was hot and she was panting. I crouched down and called to her again, and she continued to study me but didn’t move. Finally, she started walking toward the front door of the house. Kevin had forgotten his cell phone so I tossed him the key to our house so he could run back while I followed the dog. If the front door had been open, I wouldn’t have worried, but it wasn’t. The dog, with thick black fur that had been shaved and was now growing in, was standing on the front porch, her nose pushed against the door jam, willing the door to open. It didn’t. I walked up, reached down to pet the top of her head while simultaneously knocking on the door. No answer. I rang the doorbell. No answer. She had tags. Her name was Maddie, and she had a phone number. When Kevin returned we called it. I could hear it ringing inside the house but again, no answer. Maddie and I sat on the front porch while Kevin went around to the back of the house, through the gate, to make sure that a dog did, in fact, live there. He found a big water bowl and a dog toy. We filled the bowl, and left Maddie behind the closed gate.

I thought about her all day until her owner finally called to thank us profusely for helping her dog. She was surprised we even approached Maddie since she’s big and totally black and most people find that intimidating. Kevin laughed and said that we had one of those ourselves.

A Carter-like pup

Over the years, we’ve helped numerous dogs find their way back home. There was Charlie the schnauzer who used to show up in our front yard regularly. After the first few times, we discovered exactly where he lived, so we’d put a leash on him and walk him home, depositing him behind his gate and closing it securely. There was the Saturday morning when two gorgeous Huskies showed up in our front yard. We corralled them and put them in the back, called the number on their tags and their owner came within minutes. She had been out in the car, searching frantically. A little pug went by one day and Kevin, who had been in the kitchen, dashed outside and started down the street. I followed, wondering what was going on until I saw her. Penny. She was old, deaf, and partially blind. Kevin got there before I did, and as I was walking toward them, a woman in a dark blue Lexus RX330 pulled up next to me, frantic, asking if I’d seen a dog. I told her my husband had her around the corner. The woman was almost in tears as she thanked us.

One morning Kevin had gone off to Home Depot to get supplies for one of our countless DIY projects. It was early when he called me, practically in tears. There was a dog out on Lindero Canyon, a chocolate lab, and someone had hit it and driven off. He was with the dog. Could I bring every towel I could find. I threw everything into the car and drove off. Within minutes, I found him, with the dog and another woman who had stopped to help, another dog lover. The dog was bleeding but alive. A cyclist came by, and stopped; said some guy was up the street, calling for a dog. Pretty freaked out. He turned around and rode back to tell the guy we had his dog and were taking her to the vet. We pulled everything out of the back of Rover, all the wood and tools and left them on the side of the road. The woman said she’d watch our stuff until we got back. We loaded the dog into the back of the truck, I got in with her, my hand pushing on her wound, trying to stop the bleeding as Kevin raced toward one of the local vets. He went through the stoplight, horn blaring, hazards flashing until we got to the vet. The owner showed up moments later as the vet team was unloading the dog onto a stretcher. The gardeners had left the side gate open and Abby had bolted.

A short time late, the vet called to say Abby had made it through surgery. Helping her was one of our proudest moments here in the OP.

A Kobe-like dog

The dogs in the ‘hood are members of our community. There’s the big Akita, a gentle soul, in the cul de sac, and Kobe, the nutty wire-haired fox terrier mix next door. Across the street is Carter, next to her are two big loopy dogs who howl every time Jonathan and Tricia come home, and Griffy, the whippet who recently suffered a stroke in his spine. Mister Mister lives around the corner, as do the three Springer spaniels and the two Staffordshire boxers. There's Emily, the golden retriever, and the pit bull on the other corner. Gary's little dog and the new doberman/lab mix. There are mutts and purebreds, nice and mean, all with personalities, all with people who love them; all with gardeners who leave the gates open. Today and every day, we celebrate those dogs. But we are partial to one in particular.

Our Maguire, the neighborhood’s resident big dog

OP noir

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 6, 2011 10:24 PM

“The day began like any other. Hot, sticky, like gum on the bottom of a shoe. The sky was dusty white, like a ghost caught between heaven and hell on earth. She was wearing a pair of gray Big Dog boxer shorts and a white tank top with a rust spot on the side, unnoticeable to any passers by. She walked outside to stretch her legs, breathing in the scent of the heat already searing the freshly laid blacktop. It smelled dirty. A dog barked across the street as a cat scurried under a car. In the house on the cul de sac behind, the little boy was screaming again.

“In another town in another place in another time, this scene might have caused alarm, but not here. This was the OP, a town where there used to be a lot of children. Small children, the kind of children that end up in fairy tales living happily ever after. Most of those small children have grown now, including her own child, a boy who is now a man, but this little boy was new to the neighborhood. He and his sister screamed a lot, but they were young, younger than 7 and probably more like 5 and sometimes little kids screamed.

“The woman waited for five minutes or maybe ten and then she went back through the low door into the small house she shared with her husband. The coffee, thick and black, espresso beans freshly ground making mud in a pot, percolated. It smelled and sounded like morning. She liked morning. It was a chance at a new beginning.

“It was just too bad about the pig.”


I love noir. Film noir, fiction noir, any story told with high drama, usually revolving around a murder. Raymond Chandler was one of the greats, writing perfect fiction noir that was minimalist, melodramatic; prose that always seemed to start with a reference to weather followed by the discovery of a body. The stories often took place in Los Angeles, on a decidedly seedy street where the night oozed into the gutter like black ink. Thick, ornery, draining away the lifeblood of the city.

This particular murder, of a small stuffed piece of faux pork, was witnessed and photographed by one Mr. Roy Guzman on a recent Sunday night in Oak Park. Pig. Evidently mostly dead in the kitchen.

“She saw the body, small and pink, dirty like laundry that needed to be scrubbed. She stood over it, wishing it weren’t so, mourning the death. In her mind, all she could hear was Philip Marlowe. His voice gravelly, rough like the morning, hot and sticky like gum.”

“Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.” From The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.


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A big fan

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 27, 2011 12:27 AM

Guest post by Maguire

Hi. I’m Maguire, and I live with my parents in the OP. I like it here. I have my own yard and no body bugs me. Sometimes the squirrel has something to say and there are lots of birds. I’m not complaining. I like squirrels and birds.

I’m not usually allowed near mom’s computer. I don’t know what changed today except maybe because it’s really hot. Like really, really hot. Maybe it got to her brain. Mom is always saying that stuff is going on in her brain. She also says that I’m the smartest puppy she knows. I don’t know what she’s talking about when she says that but I figure it must be a good thing because usually it comes with a kiss on the nose. I like kisses on the nose.

Know what else I like? Cheese. And pizza bones. Chicken. I like salmon and tuna fish. I like twice baked potatoes. Like when mom makes them and then I get to lick the bowl. And then when I get the skins later, after dinner. Sort of like dessert. I like cheese. Did I say that?

I don’t like rain or baths ever. Also, I don’t like getting my nails trimmed.

I like my fan. I have my very own. It comes in handy in the summer on a count of because I’m wearing a fur coat. My dad always says he feels bad because if he’s hot I must be really, really hot because of my fur coat. But I’ve never been without my fur so I don’t know. I’m hot. Yep. But I’m not sure that I’d be cooler without fur. Plus I’d be naked and I don’t think I’d like that.

I like my toys, too. I have a bed in mom and dad’s room, in the corner near the door. My toys are in my bed. I like to lay my head on it and look out into my backyard. Sometimes my squirrel friends drop down to see me. I like squirrels.

Me, today; chillin'

My favorite toy is rope. Roy gave that to me. I like Roy.

Mom said I could guest post. I thought I might like that. She does this post thing every night. Dad will say “have you posted yet?” and mom will usually say “not yet.” But she must post before she goes to bed because otherwise it wouldn’t be there in the morning. And she wouldn’t shut her computer down. Mom never shuts her computer down until bedtime. Which is post post.

I like my parents. I like Justin, too. I think I’ll like Bethany. Justin told me about her when he was home last week. He’s not home very much anymore and sometimes I forget about him but then I see him and it’s like I remember everything. We were puppies together.

Roy’s coming tonight. He’s bringing me a puppy platter. I like puppy platters because they have cheese and carrots. I like carrots, too. I like Roy.

Me and Roy. I like Roy.

Diane is coming, too, and Bobbi. Bobbi comes with Roy and she calls me baby and handsome. I don’t know what handsome is but I guess I am. I remember Diane I think. I met her a long time ago when I was really small and mom took me into this building and I was on a leash. Diane gave me little cookies. I like cookies. I like my leash, too. Usually that means I’m going for a walk.

I like Fritini especially because Roy comes. I like Roy.

I’m almost 15. If I was a person I could be driving soon but I don’t go in the car anymore. I like the car. I really like the Rover but it’s hard for me to get in now. So I just look at it and remember. I’m a pretty happy boy. I like my house and my parents. My toys are cool. I like cookies. I like being a puppy in the OP. I like my fan. I’m in front of it now.


Me and my fan. 'Night!

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That blur you see is a vintage puppy streaking through the house

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 21, 2011 10:41 PM

It happened so fast, we almost didn’t see it. A streak, a blur of fur that made loose papers fly, and the flower petals ruffle. It was Maguire, on fire, not literally of course. Faster than a speeding snail, more powerful than a king-size pillow, able to leap… well, not able to leap. But still, Super Puppy had made an appearance.

When you’re a vintage puppy, edging ever closer to 15 (that’s 105 in dog years), sometimes simply getting up off the floor without assistance can be a major source of celebration. Then there are days when there’s a whole new sense of purpose. He’s younger seemingly, his batteries have been recharged. He leaps in and out of the back door and fairly runs – runs! – toward the kitchen for a cookie. He’s a puppy on the move, ready to face the day, come what may. Which will undoubtedly be a nap, and soon.

This morning was such an episode. He woke up at 7, shook and waited for me to get up. Normally he starts toward the kitchen and I have to go after him, touch his back and then beckon for him to follow me so that I can let him out in the back yard. He’s still used to the front yard to pee; vintage habits diehard. But this morning, he was standing, facing the back door, ready. All I needed to do was slide open the door and out he bounced. I left it open so that he could return, which he did, continuing on his way to the kitchen for a bite to eat and a water slurp. I had drifted off to sleep again. It was Sunday morning, after all.

Next thing I knew, he was standing next to me as I slumbered peacefully. He moved his head up next to the bed, and sighed. I opened my eyes and smiled, there he was, my masked man. God, how I love that dog. I reached over and scratched his head and behind his ears. I pulled my hand back only to have his head move toward me again, nudging. More please. I scratched his chest, dared to pull my hand back and got the nudge again. This went on for at least five minutes, which, when you’re attempting to sleep in on a lazy Sunday, can be an awfully long time.

Finally, the need for him to nap won out.

But once we got up and it was cookie time, he was ready. The nap renewed his energy. He ran toward the back of the house as Kevin made his way from the kitchen to the slider with bait in hand, otherwise known as a milkbone. And then, when he came back in, leaping over the slip lip of the slider, he took off. Running! Running!


His front paws were flapping and his front legs were pumping. The rear legs… not so much. But he managed a fast skip. He bounded into the kitchen, trotting, bouncing, enjoying his Sunday morning. He spun around, lapped up some water, and paced back and forth as I cooked breakfast, waiting patiently for his plate. Which he received. Scrambled eggs and a piece of turkey bacon, cooked crisp just like dad’s.

Then it was back to nap-ville. Sprawled on the floor, drooling and snoring, occasionally chasing butterflies or cats in his dreams, remembering what it was like to be a puppy on a mission, a dog on the move, a boy who’s got it going on. Ready to take on the world, ready to keep the world safe from absolutely nothing. Ready for anything that comes his way.

Especially another nap.

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And I am want to howl at the moon

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 20, 2011 12:13 AM

Musings on a Fritini:

It is the last night Justin will be with us, at least here in the OP. We’ll see him in Tucson in less than two weeks but this is home, this is where he should be. We’ll miss him when he drives off tomorrow.

We’re welcoming friends tonight. “Aunt Roy and Uncle Bobbi” will be coming to see the kid, to hear what he’s been up to, to listen to his plans. And Diane will join us, finally. We’ve been trying to get together for weeks; tonight works. Gene is still in Europe, in Germany. Tomorrow he flies home and we’ll see him soon.

Maguire is being his usual self. Wandering about, waiting for food and squirrels; is there a difference? He’ll go in and out and in and out and in and out and again, all night long as he begs for food, mooches for food, becomes excessively adorable, becomes Maguire.

The night is quiet, filled with just our laughter and the crickets.

I talked to my mom today and she was better, not great. But the last few days have been difficult for her. The surgery on her back has left the equivalent of a box of heavy bricks and she has not been happy. I try to talk to her every day; we  didn’t connect yesterday because she was miserable and my sister, Saint Khristan, who has been bearing the brunt of this recovery, said: “Don’t call.” Today mom was OK. Justin called her and was able to chat for a few minutes as well.

It’s Friday and another week has come to an end. We worked, we talked with clients, we did our best to contribute to the world as we know it.

I washed the car.

The guy at Accurate Automotive, Gil, finally figured out what was wrong with Justin’s air conditioner.

I miss my friend, Pam.

I love and admire my sister.

I wish my mother was a better patient, but at least she knows she’s not very good and will hopefully try to do better, if for no one else than my sister.

The moon glows and I am forever in awe of the universe.

Animals howl at the moon to communicate, to send a message, to say that “I am here, I am now. I am.”  It means there’s no need to worry, no need for concern. I’ve got this and we’re OK. Howling can be a sign of happiness. People sing at the top of their voices when they’re feeling good; why can’t a dog or a wolf do the same?

We are here, we are now. We are feeling good about what’s happening around us. We are howling at the moon. I can’t think of a better thing to celebrate on this Friday night.  

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Squirrel wars: Battle for the backyard

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 31, 2011 10:17 PM

Day 13. The standoff continues.

For nearly two weeks, we have been innocent bystanders in the war between two squirrels. We think one is male because we can sort of, you know, tell. We suspect the other is female. They are fighting for supremacy, for the acorn stash, for custody of the squirrel-ettes. They are fighting to see who gets to live in the lovely backyard provided by the Michels, and who must move to another backyard, one not nearly as nice, one with small children, one without trees.

Today’s battle erupted just after noon. The morning clouds and rain had moved east, collecting in huge thunderheads just beyond the ridge. Humidity had set in and the sun was driving the temperature up into the 90s. There was no breeze, the ‘hood was quiet. Suddenly, the silence was shattered. Our two squirrels clattered through the trees, barking at each other, ripping the leaves and small branches as they circled each other menacingly. Up and down, back and forth, round and about.

Earlier, the one we think is female had quietly walked the wall, flattening herself every foot or two, becoming part of the concrete as her body went limp, front and back legs and paws hanging over the edge. Only her tail, curled above, flicked slightly like radar testing the area for incoming bogies. Finding none, she’d rise and flit along a little further before – FLAT! And again the tail-radar would hone in on potential incoming danger. Eventually she made it to the end of the wall undetected by the enemy and disappeared into the brush.

Then: war, the battle renewed. They spun around the oak tree, down to the ground then up through the branches then down again, at a break-neck pace, racing, racing, racing. Like the children’s game of musical chairs on steroids, they spun until some unheard music stopped and they froze. The male was perched in the cradle of two branches, peering down; the female glued to the side of the tree, defying gravity, glaring up. I watched from the family room, Kevin watched from his studio. Maguire watched the back of his eyelids.

The race began again, along with the barking and the nastiness until one went hard right, into the sycamore tree, the other straight up into the oak. The leaves shook, the trees were terrified. Finally, they both alighted onto the wall, the male in the lead, hauling squirrel-butt toward who knows what with his arch nemesis, his wife/girlfriend/significant other in hot pursuit.

Somebody did something to make somebody else really mad. Maybe he was stepping out with the chipmunk two houses back. Maybe she was tired of him not bringing home the bird eggs he’d promised, failing to deliver because he was chased by the bird eggs’ parents.

Come to think of it, the poor guy can’t seem to catch a break. His wife is hounding him, the birds are fed up. I mean, what’s a squirrel to do? No wonder he’s made his last stand at this time at this place. He is the warrior. But she is queen.

What they need is the great squirrel equalizer, the one who can unite the two against him rather than each other, the one who can take a bark and give eight in return. The one who …  was otherwise occupied.

And so the siege continues. May the best squirrel win, or may they both get into some obviously needed squirrel-therapy soon. 

The night stalker: a vintage puppy story

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 12, 2011 10:32 PM

The night falls hard only hours before. He falls hard with it, hitting the carpeted floor with a thud and a sigh. The air, cool and calculating, drifts in like fog, covering his fur, tickling his paws, settling on his nose. He sniffs, once, then shifts his weight. His favorite toy, a ratty old plush named Chip is safely secured under one paw. Chip will chip no more, not today. Next to his head, his trusted rope, his warrior toy, ragged and frayed. In his bed, a cadre of others, compatriots who will come in handy should he need them to fight off what and who is coming.

At 1:48 am, he is startled awake. Perhaps by the quiet, or the loan cricket noising in the distance. The moon is nearly full, casting an eerie glow across the land. A tree rustles, an owl speaks: Rise, old man. It. Is. Your. New. Time. To. Hunt. And so he does.

In the bed above, his parental units stir and sigh. He wonders if they’ll be angry, you know, because of the hour, but then dismisses the thought almost as quickly as it entered his mind. They’re never angry at me, for I am the old dog, the vintage puppy, the one who has them so completely trained that they will help lift me from the floor should I decide I’m too “weak” to rise on my own. They are the ones who rush to the cookie door should I cast hardly a glance or a growl; the ones I have trained to ensure that my water bowl is always full and cool. The mother unit will even boil chicken and rice for me when I am sick. I like chicken. Correction: I love chicken. Chicken is my chocolate.

He goes first to the kitchen for a drink of that fresh, cool water to steady his nerves for he knows what is to come. He waits, apprehensive, the moonlight dancing through the uncovered windows. A car goes by. Is it …? No. It isn’t. I thought maybe Roy. If only because I haven’t seen Roy in a really, really, really  long time. These people think I don’t know my days but I do. I know how long it has been. One million zillion days. Too. Long.

Through the house he moves, stealthily. Or so he thinks, but his nails need trimmed so he clicks along the wooden floors. Click. Click. Click. Pause. Click. Click. Click. Paws. He stops at the doorway back into the bedroom. He can see the outline of him at the back door. Or maybe it’s her. Whatever. One of them is waiting. He steels himself and then moves like he was shot from a cannon in a movie filmed in slow motion. Toward the door he races, through molasses; through the spooky moonlight he moves. As he nears, the door slides open and he slides out into the inky air.

He has become Maguire, the Night Stalker.



Post script: Maguire doesn’t know this but his parents devised this devious plan. Since he is now rising around 2 am, a full hour or more earlier than he was previously, it’s just too damned early to take him out front. So they have worked to teach a vintage puppy a new trick. That trick? Going out into the backyard to hunt and prowl and discover and eventually to pee. Under the moonlight, he stalks… well, nothing. Because all smart creatures are asleep. His parents would like to be asleep. But our little night stalker isn’t ready to sleep yet. He needs to howl at the moon.

In the summertime

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 8, 2011 7:09 PM

Summer has officially arrived here in Southern California. For the past few days, the temperature has been flirting with 100º with only the slightest of breezes. Even the wind is hot, like a gush pushed through a furnace or a heated oven. The palm trees sway lazily, and the flowers bloom boldly in the morning before closing back into themselves in the afternoon. In the evening, they peak back out, hesitantly at first as if trying to make sure the sun and its unrelenting rays have gone away. Then they breathe a sigh of relief. All is well; let’s have a drink. As if on cue, the sprinklers come on.

The dog lays in the entrance-way on the tile where it’s coolest. Actually it’s coolest in the bathroom but evidently he only likes the bathroom at 3 am. We put a fan on low just in front of him, and it seems to keep him comfortable. We’re very strange people and don’t particularly like air conditioning, not in the house, and not unless the heat is absolutely unbearable. Most days, it remains OK. Warm to be sure, but a nice ceiling fan does wonders. And once the sun dips behind the foothills and darkness descends, the air cools, and the house cools as well. We get a lovely cross breeze between the back of the house and front bay window in the kitchen. When we sleep, a top sheet is perfect. By the middle of the night, I’ve often pulled up the comforter.

As long as the dog isn’t in distress, we leave the AC in the off position. So far, with his tile and his fan, he sleeps through the worst heat of the day with nary a pant. All is well; he rises occasionally and saunters into the kitchen for a drink. We put ice in his water bowl.

According to meteorologists, summer extends from June, through July and the whole of August in the northern hemisphere where the country resides. The southern hemisphere is the polar opposite with their summer taking place in December, January and February. From an astronomical perspective, the summer days lengthen from the equinox to the solstice with the days beginning to shorten after the solstice. The solstice happened on June 21 but the days don’t seem any shorter to me. I doubt I’ll notice any changes until fall.

Much of the country experiences severe storms and even hurricanes in the summertime. In the desert southwest, we swelter in the dry heat. Though frankly, when it’s over 100º, it doesn’t matter what kind of heat it is. It’s just hot. We have fires and earthquakes. That’s part of our summer season. The ground needs a drink; it rarely gets one.

In the summer, people vacation, the kids go to camp, the studios release their summer blockbusters. There is much splashing in pools and the beaches over flow; sunscreen gets slathered on and the world smells like coconut and bananas. Bicycles make an appearance again after the drenching spring, and motorcycles roar along the roads. Shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops abound. Barbecues are the norm. Iced coffee temporarily takes over for hot coffee, at least after the morning’s first pot, and iced drinks from soda to frozen margaritas and daiquiris to good old-fashioned ice water refresh us. It’s a glorious time, one of my favorites. Maybe that’s why I live in the desert, where it’s summer most of the year, where the heat evaporates at night to leave us comfortable, joyous and celebrating the reprieve.

The day has begun to cool now, and the sun is drifting lazily toward the sea some 10 miles or so away. I’m sitting on the patio waiting on my husband. It’s just us tonight. Our friends cancelled and that’s OK. I’m still recovering from my whirlwind trip last weekend, still nursing a bit of a sore throat.

We’ll sit here and listen to the birds, to the music playing softly in the background, to the dog stirring from his position on the floor inside. It will be time for a walk soon. It’s July 8. Summertime. All is well.

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In which I return home

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 5, 2011 10:34 PM

Home. It’s a word that conjures up images of familiarity, warmth, and comfort. It is intensely personal, with an outer dwelling not always chosen because of its exterior but made special by its interior. A home is different than a house. A house is simply a place; a home is an experience to be shared with those you prize most. Some are lucky enough to have several homes, vacation or second homes. Others view where they’re from, or where their parents live, as their ultimate home. “I’m going home to visit my mom,” or “I’m going home to visit my parents” is a common phrase. I use it myself.

I’m home tonight after a trip home. Home is where I live, where my husband and son are, where my dog slobbers the floor.  Home is also where the mother is. I remember many years ago having this conversation with my mother as she was preparing to sell the family home in New Hampshire after she and my dad divorced. She was concerned that I wouldn’t feel like I was coming home anymore and that, somehow, it would influence how often I actually made the journey. I assured her then and believe now that home is not a dwelling. It’s a feeling. Interestingly my mother used that same logic on me years later when I was getting divorced and was selling my first home. She pointed out that I was actually selling my house; the home I took with me.

According to Wikipedia, a home is most often where an individual or family can rest, relax and store all of their personal property. Photographs, books, furniture, accent pieces like antique toys, throw pillows, clothing, pets. But it’s not just people who make homes. Animals make homes, too, sometimes with their humans, sometimes on their own and often in the form of dens.

It seems to be instinct to inhabit a space in order to feel safe. Maybe that’s why there are sayings like ‘home is where the heart is,’ or ‘you can’t go home again.’ There are group homes, nursing homes, retirement homes, senior homes, foster homes. Home can influence behavior, emotions and emotional health. Perhaps that’s why being homeless can wreak such havoc. As human-animals, we need to be home. We can be homesick and home-makers. Aspirational homes are model homes. Some people are even homely, which is another idea entirely.

The word home has origins prior to 900 AD, and can be found in any number of languages including Middle English, Old English, Dutch, Norse, Danish, Swedish, German and Gothic where they called home haims, something akin to a haunt. There are single-family homes, military homes, multi-family homes, custom homes and tract homes, condo-homes and townhomes.

I went home to visit my mother this past weekend even though my home is here in Southern California with my husband. This is where I’m most at ease, where my stuff is, where my dog is, where my life is. I’m home tonight, on my couch, feet up, computer on my lap, TV tuned to a rerun of Criminal Minds because nothing says home like serial killers; Kevin is on the opposite couch, Maguire on the floor. The windows are open, a cooling breeze is sneaking in.

I’m exhausted but content. And that, ultimately, is what home is all about, contentment. Because as Dorothy Gale put it so perfectly: There’s no place like home.


Click your heels together and celebrate.

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My trip, part three: For the birds edition

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 3, 2011 8:20 PM

It's my niece's birthday and we spent the day celebrating her twelve years on this earth.  I remember when she was born. It was Friday night and Kevin and I were having dinner at Ritrovo, a lovely Italian restaurant that is now Rustico, another even lovelier Italian restaurant. Khristan had been in labor all day, and obviously there was nothing I could do being all the way out in the California which is why we went to dinner. But I had my phone, a very old Nokia, next to me on the table. My dad had promised to call as soon as the baby was born.

Khris had a very tough pregnancy and had an equally tough delivery. I don't know how long she was in labor but by the time my phone rang, just as we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, it had been at least a day or more. I'm sure it felt like months to my sister. Dad: "She's OK. We have a beautiful baby girl. 8 pounds 9 ounces. Your sister is fine." Thank god, and thank god for my Shawn Elise.

I haven't been here for most of her birthdays but I was here for this one. But because I'm not here for most of her birthdays, nor for anything else for that matter, I don't know what she likes. I know she's into dance, that she's dancing in tomorrow's 4th of July parade in Amherst. I know she runs track and holds the current record at the middle school for long jump (12' 9"). I know her best friend is Faith, and that she's an honors student, often a high honors student. She loves her family, idolizes her mother, wants to know what Auntie Lorin is writing these days, and loves animals. But I didn't know what to get her for her birthday.

Today we bought a bird. She decided she wanted a parakeet, and my sister also decided that she could have a parakeet. Getting the Mother's ok in a decision like this is key. Or keet, as this case may be. We went to Petco, where the pets go, and spent quite a bit of time with a girl named Julie. She was quite versed on birds, especially the baby parakeet variety which is what we were looking at.

Parakeets can live for 20+ years. You can tell if they're a boy or a girl by looking at their beak. If there's a blue band across the top, it's a boy; a pink band, she's a girl. Their toys need to be changed out frequently lest they get bored. Food should be changed daily even if there's left over bird-kibble in their bowl. Clean the cage once a week, using only warm water, no solvents. If they get a sniffle, they need antibiotics. Don't touch them for two days after purchase; prepare to be pecked after that as they get used to you. Keep their wings clipped so they can't fly away. Understand that they will get up with the sun and chirp.

We also bought a copy of Parakeets for Dummies.

Parakeets are delicate creatures. Blue with white tails, yellow from beak to butt, green with a dark blue tail. Shawn's parakeet is the latter. We think he's a boy – he has a light blue/purple band across his nose – but won't be entirely sure until his beak changes color. His name is Perry, and tonight he has a new home, complete with a (near) 6 year old brother named Caden and a 4 year old border collie-Australian shepherd mix named Lucky who was intrigued by the fluttering sounds coming from the Petco box.

I wish Perry dog-speed. Welcome to the family!

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