The adventures of Cooper Michel

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

Episode 3: Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trainer Danielle with Cooper

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

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

Kevin edged closer; Cooper took a smell.

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

Kevin: “No.”

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

Kevin. “No.”

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

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

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

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

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

But we didn’t.

Because that would have been rude.

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

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

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

The grind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Evidently 350AD was a good vintage

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 26, 2013 10:25 PM

I am a wino. There. I said it. I’m not at all ashamed; in fact, I’m proud. Wine to me is art and magic and creativity and wonder, all swirling in a glass. I’m partial to red, will drink the occasional white and rarely even sip a rosé to taste. However, rosés aren’t what they used to be which was White Zinfandel or worse. Sickeningly sweet to the point of gagging is how I found most of them. Lately, there have been some interesting experiments with rosés, including a rosé Malbec that we tried last week. It was dry and smooth. Not wonderful enough to entice us to buy a bottle but nice enough for a taste. I still prefer that my wine have all of its color.

Which leads me to the subject of today’s post. Evidently there is a wine at the Pfalz Historical Museum in Germany that was discovered in 1867, buried with a Roman noble near the city of Speyer. It is dated to the year 350AD. It sort of looks red though I can’t be sure. Those in the know say it is white. Who knows how old the bottle is but the wine is over 1650 years old. It was sealed with wax and contains wine-type liquid. Some in Germany are debating whether or not to open it; the museum’s wine department has said that they’re not sure the liquid could stand the shock of fresh air. A wine professor named Monika Christmann has indicated that “micro-biologically it is probably not spoiled.” But she doesn’t think it would bring much joy to the palate.

Perhaps the splash of olive oil included has helped to keep it from turning to vinegar. After all, oil and vinegar don’t mix.

I wonder what would happen if actual wine was found in the world’s oldest winery believed to be more than 6,100 years ago. Discovered in the caves of Armenia, by archeologists from the University of California, jars and drinking cups carved from animal horns were found. They believe that the Copper Age vintners stomped grapes with their feet, just like Lucy did in I Love Lucy goes to Italy. The Ancient Armenians fermented the juice in huge clay vats, all of which was found along with fossilized grape seeds and skins. Interestingly, there is a site nearby that is believed to be a place of burial suggesting that early wine making might have been part of the funeral proceedings, perhaps dedicated to the dead, or maybe inspired by the dead.

There were also bodies discovered in the Armenian wine-making cave, eight to be exact, including a child. The thought is that mourners may have sipped wine to perhaps honor the dead, or maybe to appease the spirits. Wine may have even been used to sprinkle on the graves, but that seems like a horrible waste of good grape juice.

When I come across stories like this I am forever amazed that the more things change the more they remain the same. Sixty one hundred years ago, ancient peoples were making and drinking wine. At the beginning of the calendar, in 350AD, people were making and drinking wine. In our garage right now we are making wine that we will one day be drinking.

Maybe that means that one day, in the far off future, archeologists will be excavating the earthquake-created faults where there was once Southern California. They’ll find small barrels of French and American oak, or at least the remnants of, and glass carboys. They may find a bottle but probably not, and they’ll discover a label, old, tattered, buried in the rubble of what used to be Oak Park. After painstakingly restoring it, they’ll find that it say Michel Cellars and they’ll know that once, long ago, when there was a California, there were people who made wine in this small suburb.

Meanwhile, in their ocean front property in Tucson, Arizona, nestled up against the cliffs of the Catalina Foothills, the descendants of the Michels will raise a glass and toast to a very good vintage. 

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You look like garbage. This is a good thing.

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 25, 2013 8:47 PM

Excuse me, miss, but where did you get that outfit? Because it looks like it could have come out of that trash pile over there. The fact of the matter is, it could have and I am intrigued. It seems that Levi Strauss, the incredible denim-making factory extraordinaire that has been crafting the most popular and longest-lasting jeans since 1873, is currently talking trash. I have long been a fan of Levi’s. I started wearing them in high school. I experimented with different types: boot cut, straight leg, relaxed fit. Some with zippers, some – like my all time favorites – with a button fly. I still have a pair that I bought in the mid- to late- 1980s. Sometimes they still fit. I keep them because I remain ever the optimist.

In the past, Levi’s made their denim jeans the old-fashioned way, by weaving cotton and hand cutting the fabric. In fact, denim is a rugged cotton twill textile, where the weft passes under two or more warp threads. This produces the familiar diagonal ribbing identifiable on the reverse of the fabric, which distinguishes denim from cotton duck. According to the Denimoholic blog, denim has been in American usage since the late eighteenth century (see above: Levi Strauss). The word “denim” comes from the name of a sturdy fabric called serge, originally made in Nîmes, France, by the Andre family. Called serge de Nîmes, the name was soon shortened to denim. Denim was traditionally colored blue with indigo dye to make blue "jeans," though "jean" originally denoted a different, lighter cotton textile. The contemporary use of the word jean comes from the French word for Genoa, Italy (Gênes), where the first denim pants were made.

Levi’s makes most of its jeans out of the country. Levi Strauss came to this country from Buttenheim, Bavaria in 1853. Together with a tailor named Jacob Davis, they received their first patent in 1873 to make the first riveted men’s work pants made out of denim. The first blue jeans. Now they’re making history again with something they’re calling Waste<Less. They’re making jeans out of garbage, essentially using crushed brown and green plastic bottles. Eight of each are blended into each pair and each pair is at least 20 percent recycled plastic.

It’s not the first time. Levi’s started measuring the environmental impact of its 501 jeans in 2007. They found that 49 percent of the water use during the lifetime of a pair of 501 jeans occurred at the very beginning, with the cotton farmers. Another 45 percent of water use was by consumers when they washed their jeans, typically about 100 times before the jeans were recycled or thrown out. The company then joined the Better Cotton Initiative to teach farmers how to grow cotton with less water in countries like Pakistan, India, Brazil and Mali. The first of the cotton was harvested in 2011 and Levi’s started blending its share into its jeans. Each pair has about 5 percent of the low-water cotton. Their goal is to be using 20 percent by 2015.

In 2010, Levi’s started encouraging people to wash their jeans less often, to use cold water only, and to line or air-dry. They even put it on the care tag. It started recommending that people give their old jeans to charity organizations instead of throwing them away. They also introduced Water<Less jeans in 2011. As of the end of last year, they had saved 360 million liters of water.

Enter Waste<Less.

Evidently when plastic bottles are recycled, they’re sorted by color, then cleaned and sold as polyester flakes that can be stretched into fiber that can be spun into thread and woven into cotton. Levi’s chose the beer-bottle brown and soda-pop green plastic bottles because they create a different sheen on the denim. It shows mostly on the inside of the jeans, though it appears more the more the jeans are worn. Made in North Carolina, the first jeans to be produced used about 3.5 million bottles. Sounds huge. But in 2011, people in this country consumed about 33 billion bottles of soda, only 29 percent of which were recycled.

Waste<Less when combined with the low-water cotton and the reduced reliance on water will make looking like garbage a good thing, especially if they’re button fly 501s. Maybe I can even replace my old 1980s pair.

Nah.

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Things

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 11, 2013 10:59 PM

I was thinking today about things. Such a nebulous word and yet so all encompassing. We talk about things, we see things, hear things, feel things, smell things, taste things. There are things I like to touch and things I don’t ever want to touch. I imagine things and I’m nervous about things and things change. Things evolve. Things become. Things live and breathe and die. Some things make me laugh, other things make me cry. The things I like the most are often the things that are the worst for me and vice versa.

Things are happy and things are sad. Things are scary and things aren’t. Things are out there and other things are in here. Things happen.

I like to see things like the blue sky illuminated by sunshine. Things like fog drifting across the hills. Things like rain clouds forming, and a bottle of my favorite syrah on the counter; a phone number I recognize on caller ID. Other things like stars in the sky, the glistening ocean, white sandy beaches, mountain tops covered with snow, my son’s smile, my husband’s face, my dog. My family, my friends; the cactus of Tucson.

Things I like are the touch of my husband’s hand; clean sheets at night. I like the feel of fleece and silk and faded old denim and bunchie sweaters and sweatshirts and dry pasta and skin cream and a chenille throw. I like things like a good joke and a great laugh.

Things I like to feel include joy, love, warmth, the seat warmers on my car warming my butt; fur.

Things I like to smell are my husband’s aftershave and my own perfume, intermingling. I like to smell things like garlic and deep red wine and the wind. I love to smell things like fresh cut grass because it reminds me of my grandmother’s house. Other things are spicy tomato sauce and a smoky fire, eucalyptus and rain.

I like to taste things like big, heavy, fat, red wines that are as deep as they are liquid. Things like pumpkin spice latte and really good pasta. Other things like the morning and 3 am. Those things taste like beginnings and mystery, respectfully.

There are things I look forward to like our new house and seeing Justin’s lighting design in May and his graduation in December and the next rainstorm and seeing my sister and niece and mother and brother and friends. There are things I don’t look forward to like getting older and the potential of illness and the death of loved ones and bad wine and worse vacations and bills.

I miss things like my dad and my beloved vintage puppy Maguire. I miss other things like running and Lays potato chips and my 30s. I miss the potential I left behind and my Mazda RX-7. I miss things like lazy days in bed watching movies.

The things in life that matter are the people we love, the others we live with, those we miss and those we will see again. In our dreams. Other things are laughter, happiness, joy, possibility, sadness, dog trainers, relaxing, the freedom of the motorcycle, life.

Here’s the thing. We can make things whatever we wish them to be, what we want them to be, and celebrate them for what they are. Those are the beautiful things about life. 

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John Mason

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, February 6, 2013 7:57 PM

Nearly four decades ago, I met a girl who was destined to become a lifelong friend, a soul mate. We were both freshman in high school, in Columbia, Maryland and we had only one year together before my family moved from Maryland to New Hampshire. We kept in touch though, seeing each other only once or twice, and again during college, and then lost touch. We reconnected after several years, she came to my first wedding, my first husband and I visited her and her husband once in the late 1980s, and then we lost touch again. Three years ago, in late December of 2009, we found each other on Facebook and it was as if no time had elapsed. I had gotten rid of the first husband by then and was much happier with husband number two; she still had husband number one. She had gotten it right on the first try.

We exchanged emails for a while, long tomes about our lives and all that had transpired in the decades we’d been apart. We eventually talked on the phone, for hours each time, and then when I was going back east over a 4th of July, I detoured to Baltimore to see her. She picked me up at the airport and I stayed with her and her husband just one night. He cooked a magnificent meal of salmon, veggies and roasted potatoes, and then he went to bed so that she and I could stay up half the night talking. I left the next day.

A year and a half later – just last February – they surprised me by being part of my birthday celebration in Paso Robles. We all drank too much wine, ate too much food, got too little sleep and had too much fun laughing and enjoying. That was the last time I saw him.

Pam and John

John Mason died this morning. I got a text from his wife, my beloved friend, Pam, saying simply that he had passed surrounded by family, that she couldn’t talk. I don’t know the details. I know he had suffered from heart issues, as well as other problems. He was healthy otherwise though, strong, loved to ski and was often found at their salon fixing what needed to be fixed, doing what needed to be done.

He had been a hairdresser by profession, and he and Pam had opened Mason & Friends in Columbia, Maryland many, many years ago. Twenty-five years her senior, they were perfectly compatible, sharing a passion for intelligence, family and friends; good food and good times. They also shared a passion for the Baltimore Ravens. It was fitting somehow, serendipitous even, that the Ravens won the Super Bowl just three days ago. When they beat the Patriots to earn a trip to New Orleans, I was disappointed. Why had the Pats played so badly? Now I know. It was so that John – Mason to Pam and his friends – could see them win.

I wish I had known him better but I knew him well enough to know that he loved Pam, and that told me so much about him and his character, told me all I needed to know.

What I will remember most about him is his voice. It’s what I remember so much about others who have passed. The difference is that his voice was always in the background when I talked to Pam, when it was bedtime for them and still hardly dinnertime for me. I would hear him calling for one of their cats to come in for the night.

"Harley!" Pause. "Harley!"

It always made me smile. I’m smiling now at the memory. I’m smiling through the tears.

Mason, enjoying the afternoon sun at Austin Hope winery, February 2012

Celebrating the life and love of John Mason. He will be missed by all.

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Things that go grrrrrrr in the night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?” Kevin whispered.

“I heard something that sounded like a growl.”

“It was probably Cooper.”

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

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

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

But!

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

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

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

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

GRRRRRLLLLLLL! Wide awake and awaiting the lion.

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

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Mistaken for what? Observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 2, 2013 10:17 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here. I understand from Hey Lorin that everyone, including her, was starting to get worried about me. I have been laying a little low and here’s why: at this time of year, I always get mistaken for something called a groundhog. Now I know that he’s a dude who generally lives underground and just comes out every once in a while but really – he can’t possibly look a thing like me.

Still, I know that groundhogs get grabbed up and put up on a stage and then they have to parade around and wait for the sun to come up and see if they see their shadow. Something about a shadow meaning that there’s going to still be lots more winter and no shadow meaning the spring is coming early. I don’t know how it could come early since according to my calendar, it comes the same date as it does every year, shadow or not. But whatever.

Me, a little heavier than usual

The most famous groundhog doesn’t even live around here. He has a first name I can’t even pronounce like Hunkytony and then his last name is Phil. I think that’s kind of a weird last name but maybe his parents thought it would make him memorable or something. I guess he is pretty smart because according to everything I read, these German people from some place called Yourup but who lived in Pennsylvania believed that when this Phil guy came out of his hole on February 2 – that’s today – and the sun came out and cast a shadow that he’d go right back underground for another six weeks. At least that’s what Hey Lorin was saying today. But I don’t think that makes any sense. I mean, if he’s so smart, why’s he coming out of his hole anyway, especially when it’s cold and especially when there are all kinds of people around to grab at him and take his picture. Plus, why does seeing a shadow make you smart? I see shadows all the time. I’m pretty smart but it’s just a shadow. It’s not like it’s rocket squience or something.

When Hey Lorin saw me today, she was so relieved. She asked where I’d been and I said I was keeping a low profile because of the groundhog thing. Then I asked her what is a groundhog anyway. She told me that groundhogs are also called woodchucks and whistle-pigs, and they’re actually related to me cause they’re also ground squirrels called marmots. They live in a hole, like Hunkytony and they can weigh as much as 30 pounds. That’s like me times at least 10. Now I know I’ve put on a little weight this winter but I’m not that big. Still, I decided to ask Hey Lorin since she hadn’t seen me in a while.

“Hey Lorin,” I asked as I crammed an acorn in my cheek. “Do you think I look fat?”

She looked up at me and smiled. I noticed she didn’t answer me right away and I was starting to get worried that maybe I was fat.

Finally: “I think your fur is just thick for the winter,” she said.

Ha. That’s exactly what Mrs. Squirrel said. Girls are all alike I guess.  I decided not to point out that the Red Furred one also looked like his fur has gotten a little thick lately.

So maybe I need to lose a little bit of weight. I mean, Hunkytony Phil didn’t see his shadow so spring is coming and that means something called bathing suit season is coming next. I don’t know what bathing suit season is and I don’t think I want to. But since it was cloudy today and I didn’t see my shadow either, no matter how hard I looked, I guess I better get ready.

At least now nobody will think I’m a groundhog, though they may think I’m a whistle-pig, if Hey Lorin is right. I hope they don’t think I’m that but just in case, maybe I should start eating more berries.

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Writer as bully

by Lorin Michel Friday, February 1, 2013 10:09 PM

When I was little, I was going to be a famous actor. After that I was going to be a rock star. Both of these fancies had passed by the time I was 12 or 13. Yes, I was in several drama productions during high school and it was fun; and sure, I continued to lip sync into a hairbrush in my room, but I knew neither of those would become an actual profession. I didn’t have the talent, nor the desire to be the center of attention, always on stage. I wasn’t designed for it. What I came to know I was designed for was something behind the scenes, something that involved words. It’s something I actually knew as a little girl.

From the time was I was seven or eight, I was writing stories. With a small pocket notebook crammed into the back of my wrangler jeans, and the nub of a pencil slid down next to it, I would find the tallest tree I could, climb as high as I dared, position myself on a branch and write stories of intrigue and mystery. The heroine’s name was always Julie, for the heroine on TV’s The Mod Squad. I thought she was hopelessly glamorous and cool. I thought the stories they did were exciting. At seven, I didn’t yet know or appreciate good acting in equally good stories. In my tree I would write and write and write until it was time to climb down and go inside for dinner.

As a teen, I graduated to writing horror and ghost stories. There’s something about ghosts and death and vampires and monsters that intrigues all teenagers, then as now. I seemed to always get an A on those tales and won several awards. Then I went to college, enrolled in their art program. I didn’t know what I was going to do with such a degree. I also enrolled in English classes. Before long I realized that I wasn’t a very good artist and didn’t even like it that much. I wasn’t visually creative. I threw myself into writing instead, graduating with a degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. I didn’t know what I was going to with that either, but at least I was happy.

I have always been driven to write. Whenever I have tried to veer away from that path, it has not fulfilled me. I have returned time and again to story telling, in one form or another. It’s not always a literal story though sometimes it is. Often times it’s story telling in the form of a company story. I do many of those and enjoy every one because each involves creation, the suspension of disbelief; it involves words and the art of stringing them together to form sentences, paragraphs, pages.

It’s a passion, a sickness, a need; an addiction. A day does not go by that I don’t write something, even if it’s just for this blog. Every day I am driven to the written word. I no longer sit in a tree. Instead, I sit in my loft. But there is something inside me that makes it impossible for me not to write.

I often wonder if I’m any good; if I’m really just lucky. I’m sure that I’m nothing more than a hack. Someone able to put sentences together nicely but without style; sentences that are fine but don’t sing. I question constantly whether this addiction is good for me. But like any drug, I must do it daily and have no desire to stop.

Several days ago, a book was released called “Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Writers on How and Why They do.” It’s edited by Meredith Maran. Inside, writers like Susan Orlean, Rick Moody, Jane Smiley, Walter Mosley, and Armistead Maupin among others, discuss the craft of writing and of being a writer. It’s a fascinating look into the sickness that is writing.

In it Water for Elephants author Sara Gruen writes that: “The only thing that makes me crazier than writing is not writing.” Memoirist Mary Karr says: “I write to dream; to connect with other human beings; to record; to clarify; to visit the dead. I have a kind of primitive need to leave a mark on the world. Also, I have a need for money.” I can relate.

Joan Didion who is sometimes one of my favorite writers because of her brutal honesty wrote this in her 1976 essay Why I Write: “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives with ellipses and evasions – with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating – but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

It’s an interesting observation and I think a correct one. When I read I am looking to be convinced, to be transported, to be illuminated. As such I suppose I am being bullied a bit by a particular writer’s point of view. And as a writer, I equally suppose that I am bullying others to see things my way, to remember instances from their past because I suggest that they do. Does that really make me a bully? I don’t know.

James Frey, the acclaimed then humiliated writer of the false memoir A million little pieces admits: “I’m really not qualified to do anything else.” I suppose there are worse things to do than bully with the written word. Would that all schoolyard bullies could write to entice someone to see their point, rather than intimidate with fists and worse.

That would be a story to tell. Those would be words to celebrate

Tulips in January

by Lorin Michel Monday, January 28, 2013 8:05 PM

About a week and a half ago, our friend and hairdresser extraordinaire, Tammy, came to the house for dinner and cocktails. We hadn’t seen her socially for a while and we’ve known her forever. We’re all Survivors of Sebastian as we long ago dubbed ourselves and anyone else who worked for Sebastian International in the 1980s and 90s and lived to understand its meaning. It was a brutally creative place to be but it gave me so much. It taught me how to work and create quickly and sometimes brilliantly, showed me that boring is for others, and introduced me to some of the best people I know. Most if not all of my friends here in California are people I met while interned in the grand Pyramid in Woodland Hills (Sebastian’s headquarters). We share a past and an understanding of what it meant to work under those conditions and to produce some of the most amazing products and corresponding creative the professional hair care industry had ever known.

I was their senior writer. Roy was the art director. Bobbi was a senior designer. Diane was a freelance designer. Kevin (we were not involved at the time; only knew each other peripherally) was the Vice President of Southern California Sales. Tammy was the head of the color team for education. She’s a master colorist. She left Sebastian years ago, as we all did, and opened her own salon. She’s been cutting and coloring my hair since we were both at Sebastian. She’s been cutting and coloring Kevin’s hair since he and I got together, post Sebastian. Bobbi sees her regularly as well. Roy prefers to get his hair chopped at one of the local in and out shops.

The night Tammy joined us, she brought with her a number of things to eat, all from Trader Joe’s so all wondrous. There was a frozen spinach dip that we microwaved. It was excellent. But I think my favorite was a blueberry wrapped loaf of goat cheese. I could have eaten the whole thing.

She also brought a small potted plant containing three tulip stalks. I promptly put it in the greenhouse window.

Tract houses in California often have greenhouse windows off of the kitchen, above the sink. That’s where ours is. It’s basically just an extension of the countertop, with a shelf, but it is surrounded by glass on all sides as well as on top. The top cranks open to allow in air as needed or to release any heat. Most of our neighbors seem to use their greenhouse windows for pots and pans. They have stacks on both levels. I’ve always wondered why. It’s rather unsightly, and there is ample cupboard space in the kitchen. There is plenty of room for pots and pans beneath the stove. We have the smallest style house in our tract, I have a ton of kitchen stuff, and I have no need to put my cooking utensils in the sun with hopes that they’ll grow.

Our greenhouse window has only plants, including the official Saguaro cactus that Kevin gave me for mother’s day the year we bought our property in Tucson. It hasn’t grown much and I don’t expect it to for another 75 years or so. We also have several other plants that thrive in some direct sun but always direct light, at least until the night arrives. The tulips have been sitting on the bottom level, next to the cactus, since their arrival. I’ve given them some water, just enough to keep the soil moist, as the directions said.

This morning, it was 39º. The air was still, our breath crystallized before dissipating as we walked Cooper. When we returned to the house and a cup of hot coffee, we also discovered flowers. My tulips were blooming in shades of deep pink and white.

Because of the remarkable cold we’ve had this winter, with frost and chilling temperatures, a number of outdoor plants have died. Our neighbor’s date tree has become petrified and black, suffering from frostbite, frozen to death just over the wall. We lost several of our bougainvilleas; there are no flowers currently blooming anywhere in the Southland.

But today, in my kitchen, beneath my greenhouse window, next to the Saguaro, I had tulips. It was a good day.

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