What happens on date night ends up as a blog post

by Lorin Michel Friday, June 24, 2011 11:42 PM

My husband and I go out on a date on Thursday nights. It’s our way of reconnecting at the end of the week, of spending time together doing something we both really enjoy. We get to talk, and laugh, tell stories, sometimes complain. Most importantly, we’re not working.

Last night was date night and we have both had just a horrendous week of work. Too much to do with much of it not going right and thus not getting done. I’ve also been in several meetings and any time I’m not in my office, I’m not really working. While I’m getting more work to do – always a good thing – having to fight traffic to get somewhere, meet, and fight traffic to get back is not productive.

Kevin had a number of deadlines that weren’t being met because his programmers were late on site development and that meant clients were going to be unhappy. Maguire has been a little under the weather. We were both a little down. We thought about not going. But ultimately decided to go anyway just to get out of our space.

I’m so glad we did. We went to The Wineyard, a little wine tasting place in Thousand Oaks where they have vineyard specific tastings on Thursday night. Often the winemaker is there so we can ask questions and learn about a particular vintner’s thoughts as to how he or she makes wine. Last night, the tasting was Boeger, a little winery northeast of Sacramento on the way to Lake Tahoe. They tasted four reds ranging from a Barbera to a Primitivo to a Zinfandel to a Syrah. Interestingly the Primitivo is actually a zinfandel vine from Italy but it’s processed differently and tastes nothing like a California zin.

As we were sitting at a pub table near one of the windows I happened to notice a black BMW with a vanity plate. I said to Kevin I thought I recognized the plate but I couldn’t place it. There weren’t a lot of people there last night; usually it’s packed. Kevin ventured over to the counter to get some bread and cheese and when he came back to the table he informed me that there was a lady selling jewelry and that I should go see if anything struck my fancy. It was mostly silver and some pieces were very cool. I decided I really liked a bracelet and my husband promptly bought it for me, along with a pair of earrings. I was feeling special.

The people at the table beside us got up to leave and must have heard us talking. They stopped by and we struck up a conversation about wineries and how fabulous it is when you can go to new places and drop someone’s name to get specialized treatment. Often when you do this, especially if you know about wine, suddenly the person who’s pouring the tastings will reach under the counter and pull something out they reserve for true wine lovers and connoisseurs. The man we were talking to introduced himself, gave us his card and told us to use his name at several local places we hadn’t yet been to, particularly a place up in Lompoc, north of Santa Barbara, called the Wine Ghetto. We love it already because of the name. This man and his wife looked so familiar to me. They said their goodbyes and soon we saw them get into the black BMW with the familiar license plate. We finally realized that we knew them from the ‘hood here in Oak Park, and that we had first “met” them when they stopped at one of our garage sales several years ago. The guy at one point was even interested in hiring Kevin to build his website.

Small world.

The lady from the jewelry table stopped by with a business card and we talked to her a bit. Turns out she’s friends with one of our neighbors across the street. It was like OP-neighbor night at The Wineyard.

Came home and Kevin’s developer who had been horrifically late on a project called just before 11 to announce that he had made tremendous progress and was close to being finished. Crisis averted.

Mark Twain once said: “Do something everyday that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.” Last night we went out even when we didn’t want to and it ended up being one of our best date nights ever sharing stories with new people and just enjoying each other’s company.

Tonight friends will be arriving shortly and we’ll celebrate the end of a long and stressful week with good food and yes, more wine. Next Friday, I’ll be in Maryland, celebrating with a friend I haven’t seen in 20 years. Kevin asked me today if we’d recognize each other. I have no doubts whatsoever. True friendships transcend time and space, and I am blessed to have several friends – including my husband – who do just that.

Welcome to the weekend. Make it a good one.

Dog is my shepherd; I shall not want

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 31, 2011 10:10 PM

Most days our lunchtime walk takes us past a house in Westlake that has two Australian Shepherds who come running to the fence as we approach. As soon as they get to the fence, they immediately sit down and move their heads in unison, watching us closely. There’s never a bark or a growl; just attention and fascination. We speak to them; they do not speak back. One is brown, black and white with expressive light brown eyes. The other is gray and black and white with icy blue eyes. It’s difficult for us to pull ourselves away but then we remember that a) we’re on a walk and b) we’re being disloyal to our own half Aussie back home.

When we adopted Maguire 14 and a half years ago, the shelter thought he had some German Shepherd in him. But it quickly became evident that he was probably more Australian Shepherd and Golden Retriever with some other bits and pieces mixed in for flavor. He has the eyes of a shepherd, and the coloring; the temperament of a golden. He did some herding of Justin when both were younger, but he’s always been fairly mellow, easy, almost docile. He looks more like a shepherd though, and has the shorter legs and the movements of one.

Interestingly, the Australian Shepherd isn’t even from Australia but rather from the Western U.S. No wonder Maguire feels so at home out here. They got their name because of the imported Australian sheep they were so good at herding. They also quickly got a reputation for being extremely intelligent; another reason that we’re sure Maguire is part Aussie.

We’ve become very partial to the breed, especially the mutt versions, for obvious reasons. But when I come across stories like that of Shep, I know that these dogs are truly blessed creatures.

In 1936, a sheepherder near Fort Benton, Montana became ill while tending his flock and was brought to St. Clare Hospital. In those days, the west was still untamed with cowboys riding across the high plains and through the mountains and shepherds tending to many different herds. Shepherds lived on the prairies, moving from place to place with their sheep, traveling in wagons and sleeping in tents. They would go for weeks without seeing a single person, and their best friends and constant companions were their dogs. When they did need to travel, they did what others of the time did: they went by train. A train is how this one particular shepherd was brought into Fort Benton, along with his faithful dog, an Australia Shepherd, who waited, the legend says, by the hospital door. Three days later, the man died. His family in Ohio requested that his body be sent home to them via train.


The dog, who had become known as Shep, followed the casket to the train station and watched as it was loaded into the baggage car. He whined when the door was shut and as the train pulled away from the station, he ran after it until he could run no more. He watched until it was long gone, and then returned to the station. He dug a hole under the train depot and he waited for the train bearing his master to return. He waited for five and a half years, rising to meet each train. People fed him and cared for him; some tried to adopt him. But he wanted none it.

The long vigil took its toll on Shep. His legs became stiff, and he was hard of hearing. Perhaps that’s why he failed to hear Train 235 as it rolled into the station one cold winter morning. When he moved to get out of the way, he slipped on the icy rails and his long wait was finally over.

I’m not religious, but I do find a lovely synergy in the idea that dog is god spelled backwards, or perhaps it’s the other way around. Like that wayward shepherd in 1936, I too believe in the loyalty of a dog, and put my faith in one daily and for the rest of his life. And mine. 

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live out loud

Pooh and Piglet

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 3, 2011 10:52 PM

He was born in 1926, short, stubby and of non-descript coloring. Some thought him to be light brown, almost blonde while others thought him to be much darker, perhaps because he was named after a Canadian black bear cub – Winnie – that lived at the London Zoo. His last name came from a gracious and majestic swan – Pooh – met on holiday. He gained notoriety in countless books and eventually film, and because he was well-loved if not more well-known than his namesakes.

His best friend, diminutive in size and stature, was smart, articulate, and helped his friend through numerous bad times and tight spots. He was occasionally referred to as Henry Pootel, but was more commonly known as Piglet, best friend to Winnie-the-Pooh, the sometimes light, sometimes dark bear.

These two were inseparable in the world of Alan Alexander Milne, the British author who created Pooh, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, and Tigger, all friends of Christopher Robin. I bring this up for several reasons. I’m a big Pooh and Piglet fan, best friends. And I’m a big fan of friends.

There is something incredibly special about friendship. I’ve blogged about this before. Friends choose each other; we find each other on our own. We are not thrust together by blood, we are brought together by circumstance. Friendship is entirely circumstantial, and that’s what makes it so special.

I don’t have a lot of friends, and frankly don’t want a lot. I like my small little circle. We have chosen each other.

I talked to my friend Pam today, for three and a half hours. We were inseparable during our freshman year of high school, and then my family moved away. We grew apart. We reconnected briefly when I got married the first time, but then drifted again. About a year and a half ago, I found her on Facebook and we reconnected after twenty years. It’s been fabulous.

She got me through some scrapes then, back when we were young, and now we’re still re-celebrating our re-friendship and our reconnection, twenty years later. Pooh and Piglet. Not sure which is which or what is what. Not sure it’s relevant.

What’s relevant is the friendship, the joy, the love.

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh,” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw, “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

I’m sure of you, my friend. I’m so glad we’ve returned to each other.


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friendly celebrations

The invisible string

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 30, 2011 10:37 PM

There is a string, says a lovely children’s book by British author Patrice Karst, that connects us all, tying us together with those who are most important. Even when we are separated, even when we are alone, as long as we have known someone, truly known them, they are with us always. This book is a favorite of my friend Bobbi’s for many reasons.

Bobbi lives here in Southern California with her husband of nearly 29 years, Roy, surrounded by a number of friends who consider her family. Her other family is mostly in Wisconsin, but Bobbi left them and her life there at the tender age of 18 to come west. She brought the string with her, and it connects her daily with the love she has for her father, stepmother, brothers and sisters and their assorted families, and her now grown daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.

The string also connects her to many of her friends, both here and all over the world. And she has many. I suspect that were I to ask each of them their true feelings about her, they would likely gush, for she is a true friend, a light shining bright even when times are foggy and dark. Like a beacon, she smiles and the fog lifts. You feel better having talked with her, for being connected to her.

I honestly don’t know how we became such good friends. We met more than 20 years ago when we both worked at Sebastian International, the hair care and beauty company. Since we were both in the art department, which was fairly small at that point, we bonded over deadlines and irritations. But what tied us together was bigger than that; it was a mutual respect, similar senses of humor, background, and dreams. I was married to my first husband then. It was hard for him to socialize with anyone in my little world because he didn’t like it. But after I finally got rid of him, my friendships blossomed. I suspect that’s when Bobbi and I got closer.

She’s also the one responsible for putting Kevin and I together. I’ll never forget the phone call. She and Roy had long left Sebastian to start their own design studio, in a space they shared with a photographer. I was working with the photographer on a short film so I was at the studio for a meeting. As she was leaving to go home for the night, she had a huge grin on her face as she looked at me and said: Call me when you get home.

I did. That’s essentially how I got married for the second time though there were many events and several years between that phone call and Kevin’s and my wedding in 1998. All fodder for another blog post.

We’ve all become great, great friends, sharing many holidays together, certainly the big ones of Thanksgiving and Christmas, always with others there to celebrate as well. But selfishly I like to think of us as the core four.

Today is my friend’s birthday. May 1st. May Day, the worker’s holiday that began in Australia in 1856 and was designated Loyalty Day in the U.S. in 1958. It can also be traced to the Celtic festival known as Bealtain, celebrating the midpoint in the sun’s progress between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. In Germany it is celebrated as Walpurgisnacht, after Saint Walburga, an English missionary to the Frankish Empire in the 8th century. Her May 1st celebration still includes much dancing and bonfires. In the U.S., one of the biggest celebrations takes place in Minneapolis and is called the “In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre Parade and Pageant.”

The maypole, also part of May Day, is a symbol decorated with ribbons or streamers, and has history in the pagan symbolism first introduced by the Celts so many centuries ago. The pole represents the male, the ribbons the female. Today, it’s part of European folk festivals, and an opportunity for children to sing as they dance around the pole, holding the ribbons, expressing joy through giggles.

These ribbons or streamers are strings, too. They are the threads that sew us to humanity’s rich history; they are the ties that hold us together. Perhaps that’s why May Day has become special to me, and to all of us who know her, who are forever tied to her through our invisible strings.

Grab a ribbon and dance to celebrate Barbara Jo – Bobbi – Jankovich.

Happy Birthday, my good friend. Live it out loud!

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Whiling away a Saturday afternoon on a porch

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 9, 2011 10:56 PM

Our friends Diane and Gene have welcomed a new addition to their family, an American Staffordshire Terrier named Tommy. I met him today, a puppy of the softest white and bluest gray, with a thumb print on the top of his head, one ear flopping forward, the other back and eyes the color of gray storm clouds. He’s a couple of months old and a gentle soul. He and his older brother Henry were quite the pair, eating cookies and apples, Tommy chewing on the tree leaves nearest the porch floor.

We sat there on the porch, lounging, hot tea turning almost immediately cool in the chilly afternoon air. A slight wind blew across the back yard, rippling the water in the pool, making the wind chimes sing softly. There were six of us, including Diane and Gene’s friend Troy from Marin County, just in town briefly from a place called Solstice Grove (I think), and Roy and Bobbi. Kevin was working, a web emergency. He was missed.

Saturday afternoons are made for porches, good friends and dogs.

At the risk of offending cat lovers, of which I’m one, I must say that puppies and dogs have a special place in our lives. They have a wondrous smell, puppies being all new fur and innocence. And dogs are just slightly more mature versions, even with their dustier fragrance.

I remember Maguire when he was a pup, all spring-loaded energy that could drop to a dead sleep in a split second. His teeth were little needles, his breath always smelled a bit like puppy food and grass and a cool breeze. He loved to hug, burying his head under my chin when I held him, back when I could pick him up. He still buries his head under my chin, though now it’s when I get down on the floor to hug him. The top of his head smells like my perfume most days. It smells good on him.

Judging from today, Tommy will be wearing Diane’s perfume, too. It will suit him well.

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friendly celebrations

Friendly celebrations, part 1

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:09 PM

There is a wonderful scene in the wonderfully bad movie Tequila Sunrise that comes near the end. Raul Julia’s “Carlos” and Mel Gibson’s “Mac” are discussing money, drugs and women. Carlos looks at his buddy and says:  “Friendship is the only choice in life you can make that's yours! You can't choose your family! Goddamn it, I've had to face that! … Friendship is all we have. We chose each other. How could you fuck it up? How could you make us look so bad?”

Crude, but accurate. Robert Towne, the writer and director of that horrible movie, knew what he was talking about when it comes to friends and friendship.

Who were the first friends? No one really knows, but we all remember our first best friends. Mine was Kathy Kalenbaugh in kindergarten. We met on the first day when we were both wearing the same hot pink pant’s suit. Every one of us knows the power that flows through friendship. There is sheer joy in being in one another’s presence. Every time you’re with a certain person, with that friend, you feel better having been there. It doesn’t have to be laughter and happiness. Sometimes there is joy, but just as often there is sadness, but there is a strength of feeling and love, of sharing, that comes through every time. That’s what makes it real and special.

Facebook has become the de facto “friend” network, but before that we had Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Starsky and Hutch, Riggs and Murtaugh. Do men have deeper friendships than women? Only in film and on TV. In real life, many men, my husband included, seem to go for years sometimes without connecting with their closest friends. Roy is the exception for Kevin, and vice versa.

Are there great female friendships in history? Thelma and Louise come to mind. Still, women are different. There’s something about women and friendship that is more emotional, almost more sensual. We’re not afraid to show our feelings, and we’re not burdened with having to play tough. If we love someone, we tell them, without fear.

Most of us would die for our best friends, just as we would die for a child, or a husband. We would die for anyone we love, and we love our friends. The term best friends forever, ridiculously trivialized in texting vernacular as BFF, is often true.

The French writer Anais Nin wrote: "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."

Over the years, I’ve had many close friends, women I couldn’t imagine my life –my world – without, and yet many have disappeared. I think as we mature, we become more sure of ourselves and thus more sure of the people we want around us. The fun-loving college roommate who could drink with us, isn’t as important as the friends we can now laugh with, bitch with, share with and travel with. Traveling with a friend and still enjoying your time together is one of the truest tests of friendship. I’ve traveled with several and it can define the relationship in both a good and bad way.

I celebrate my friends, my closest friends, my “sisters,” those in my past and especially those in my present for these are the women who will be with me in the future. We’ll grow old together, drink wine and whine together, celebrate birthdays and holidays…

In future posts, I want to chronicle the women who are most important to me. You know who you are: Bobbi, Diane, my sister Khris, rediscovered Pam. I don’t have many but those I have I cherish. I would do anything for any of them. And I know they’d do the same for me.

As Hafiz of Persia wrote: Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.

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friendly celebrations

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