Oh

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 13, 2012 10:18 PM

I was reminded today of the extreme power that a small word can provide, and of the immense guilt or emotion it can cause in the recipient of said word. I speak of the word “oh.” We have long teased my mother that she can use this word better than anyone to convey an entire book of information. Whenever she has a visceral dislike of something, her immediate response is a patented “Oh,” with the ‘o’ very high and the ‘h’ as low as the ground. She also drags it out ever so slightly, like Ohhh. I have never met anyone that does the “Oh” better than my mother. She’ll often precede it with a brief pause, as if to inflict maximum angst in the recipient. She often follows it with another pause before an also patented nose wrinkle. She does it when she doesn’t like a particular clothing choice, or the color you’re painting your kitchen, or the car you’ve decided to buy.

The “Oh” has all the power of mom rolled into two letters. So does the word “No” if it’s done in much the same way with the “n” being a little higher and the “o” drawn out for maximum martyrdom. This was evidently something that Kevin’s mother mastered. An example: Mom, let me clean up the kitchen. “Noooo. I’LL do it.” Kevin uses this tactic on me quite often. It does not often work.

The smallest of words can deliver the biggest emotional bang. Take the word “fine.” It’s a word that any woman in a relationship has mastered. In fact, she probably mastered it in high school when dealing with parents that wouldn’t allow her to do everything in the world that she wanted to do simply because she wanted to. If you’re a woman, you remember. I want to drive to New York City with my friends for a rock concert. No. Fine!

Fine can actually be used two ways. It’s most potent is when it’s used to effectively end any conversation or argument. When used thus it is laced with hatred and bile. This is the kiss-my-ass fine that means the polar opposite of fine but signals there will be no more discussion. I.e. It isn’t fine and you suck.

The other fine is actually fine, as in oh-that’s-good. Whenever I hear “fine,” I almost always ask which fine it is, especially it not readily apparent. Which it usually is.

Another good word is “interesting” because it’s often used to signify something is anything but. It’s often said for something ugly. Men sometimes use it to describe a woman they don’t seem to find especially attractive. She’s “interesting.” My mother has used it along with “oh” when she really doesn’t like something. Well, it’s … interesting.

Still, “oh” remains my favorite probably because it comes from my mother.

Oh. (Is that what you’re wearing? This after you’ve spent an hour and a half in the bathroom getting dressed.)

Oh. (Are you really going to buy that? This after it’s already on the conveyor belt headed for the checker.)

Oh.

Really?

Well.

Fine.

OK.

When you can use one word to communicate a complete sentence, paragraph and page, you are very powerful indeed.

Yep.

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live out loud

Baking cookies

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 2, 2012 7:23 PM

I love to cook. Most nights, I can be found in the kitchen, sautéing, stirring, mixing, creating. Sometimes I know exactly what I’m going to do; other times I wander in and take inventory of what I have and based on that, what I can make with it. Some of my most interesting – if not best – meals have been created from what I happened to find in the pantry, something I’d forgotten in the freezer and a touch of wine. Wine makes everything taste better.

I rarely do the same thing when it comes to baking, largely because I don’t bake. I used to. When I was a kid, I loved to bake, often times with my mother, who was and remains a great baker. I think she’s a better baker than cook, probably because she prefers sweets to just about anything. Food is something she has to eat; baked goods are what she prefers to eat. She was always making cookies and cakes. For our birthdays each year, when we were young, she would make character cakes. A puppy or rabbit, an elf or Santa for her two Christmas babies (my sister and I both have late December birthdays); others I’m sure I don’t remember. She could make a wonderful blueberry coffee cake from scratch. The holidays were filled with nutcups, sugar cookies with half vanilla, half chocolate frosting, thumbprints filled with a Hershey kiss; pizzelles rolled when still warm to form a cone to be filled with some kind of horribly sweet and wonderful cream and then dipped in crushed walnuts.

I was more of a traditionalist when I would bake. I was a master at the chocolate chip cookie. I even did a speech on it when I was in 7th or 8th grade. We had to do a demonstration speech, and I chose to show how to make cookies. I brought all of the ingredients with me to school and stored them in my locker. For my speech, I walked the class through the adding of each ingredient, the stirring, and then provided them with both a finished cookie (made the night before) as well as the chance to eat some of the dough, if they desired. Chocolate chip cookie dough is almost better than chocolate chip cookies. There’s a reason it’s an ice cream flavor after all.

I’m pretty sure I got an A on my speech. The rest of the day, whenever I could, I made it back to my locker to sneak more dough, which I had stored on the top shelf. By the end of the day, I was fairly sick.

Once I went to college and then got married the first time, I didn’t do much baking. When Kevin and I got married, he did some baking. His mother, a woman I never really knew and only met once when she was already deep in the delusions of Alzheimer’s, was known for her pies. It was a common refrain to hear at get togethers: “Virginia’s here and she brought pie!” No one else’s contributions mattered.

But today for some unknown reason, I got an itch to bake. I did what I usually do when I cook. I went to the pantry as well as the spice cabinet and studied what I had. There were no chocolate chips so those were out. Then, at the top of the spice cupboard, on the right side of the shelf, I spotted molasses. Another of my favorite cookies when I was a kid was molasses. Perfect! As long as I had everything else. Flour – check. Baking soda – check. Brown sugar – ummmmm. Was it too hard? Brown sugar when not used for long periods of time turns to a rock. So brown sugar …. Check! I had cinnamon, ginger. No cloves but I could substitute nutmeg. An egg – check. Crisco – check (only because Kevin had just bought a tub at Thanksgiving in order for him to make pie). I measured, I blended, I mixed. Then I had to put the dough into the refrigerator for a bit.

I worried that I might lose my motivation. If one is not inclined to bake in the first place, having to wait to bake can make one lose interest. But I managed to keep my heart in it.

After a couple of hours, I removed the dough, rolled bits into nice little balls, dipped one side in granulated sugar, placed them on an ungreased cookie sheet, baked each batch for about 12 minutes, and presto. I had cookies.

The house smelled of cinnamon and molasses, warm and gooey but with a crispness. It smelled a little like Christmas. Maybe that’s why I was in the mood to bake. After putting up the tree yesterday and hanging some lights on the front of the house, I was feeling the spirit of the season.

There’s something so cozy about baking, so comforting. So fattening. Still, with the fragrance of baked molasses still filling the air, I’m feeling good. It might be another 20 years before I bake another batch, but today, I’m celebrating the sugary joy of fresh baked cookies. 

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A puddle stomping fun-fest

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 30, 2012 8:54 PM

It rained today, a lovely drizzle that occasionally turned to showers. I’m told the difference between rain and showers is that showers aren’t steady whereas rain is. To me, if it’s precipitating, it’s raining. I used to run in the rain. In fact, when I would see the sky painted gray and the air would feel heavy with moisture, I was practically giddy with anticipation. Once the rain would start to fall, I’d lace up my Asics, pull on the appropriate gear and off I’d go, iPod strapped to my arm, buds in my ears. I always ran further and faster when it was raining because it kept me cooler.

Walking in the rain has a similar effect. We walked this morning with Cooper, going about a mile and a half, to Starbucks and back. It was the perfect morning for something hot. We trudged back through the drizzle while Cooper maneuvered himself under every bush, the heavier with water, the more he liked them. We walked down sidewalks, across parking lots, down a double flight of stairs with Kevin and I carefully avoiding puddles and Cooper splashing merrily through them. When we returned, Kevin and I felt great and Cooper smelled like a wet dog for an hour or two. He couldn’t have been a happier boy unless maybe it was snow.

At lunch, the two two-legged members of the family went for another walk. It started to absolutely pour but we kept on, going up the Rockfield hill and down the Bowfield one, across Lindero and up behind the Fresh ‘n Easy through the alley behind. Birds were flying low, landing on the wet pavement. A little black and grey bird waded through water pulsing from the gutter, careening and cascading down the road, rippling as when a stone breaks a still plane of water. The bird hopped a bit, pecked at the water, then flew off to find a dry branch.

Again, we avoided puddles. But I found myself looking at them longingly. I wanted to run and jump and stomp in them, send water skyward in even bigger bursts of drops than those that previously fell. I don’t know what stopped me. Maybe it was not wanting wet, soggy feet. Maybe it was that a lot of the puddles worth stomping in were near the gutter spouts and thus the water was pretty dirty. Maybe because it wasn’t raining hard enough to make the great foot-stomping joy of something like the puddles in Singing in the Rain.

I’m a moderate fan of the film but a huge fan of the title song scene and the athletic Gene Kelly stomping with wild, glorious, joyful abandon through puddles on the backlot of the old MGM studios in Culver City. To film this famous scene, holes were dug out of the pavement to make puddles exactly where Kelly’s choreography wanted them. A complex system of pipes was engineered to make the downpour perfect. There are conflicting reports as to whether milk was mixed with the water to make the rain more visible. Regardless, the area was darkened with tarps and lit from behind to make the rain sparkle and to keep the fake shop windows from having reflections. Just as they were about to begin shooting, the water wouldn’t run through the pipes because it was after 2 in the afternoon, which was when the people of adjacent Beverly Hills ran their yard sprinklers. They filmed a bit later instead.

Kelly was also running a fever of about 103º. The soaking he endured caused his wool suit to shrink even while he was filming. I think if you watch, you can see that the sleeves on the jacket are a little too short. The scene is ten shots, and Kelly said that he created the right mood by invoking the “thought of the fun children have splashing about in rain puddles and I decided to become a kid again during the number.”

And there it is. The puddle stomping fun is silly and gleeful, and mesmerizing. It makes you remember what it means to be a kid, to be unencumbered by protocol, to not give a damn about wet feet – in fact, to prefer them. The soggier and squishier, the better.  

I thought of that scene today, one of films’ greatest as far I’m concerned. It personifies, with song and dance, the very essence of living it out loud. 

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live out loud

In praise of drizzle

by Lorin Michel Thursday, November 8, 2012 10:39 PM

It has been cold, wet, and miserable here today and I absolutely love it. I woke up to hear the tell-tale dripping of gutters just outside the window. It was still dark and I wondered if it could possibly be, really, honestly rain? It was, however light. Light drizzle that had collected and become too heavy to hover in the air.

This is the first really dreary day we’ve had in months. It’s not even close to a storm; it’s just damp. I’m very cognizant of my east coast readers and the hell you’ve been through lately, with Hurricane Sandy and now the nor’easter that is spreading cold and misery up and down the eastern seaboard. I spoke to my sister yesterday and it was already 20º. The storm was coming; she was not at all happy.

I know that if I lived there, I wouldn’t be happy either. I DID live there once upon a time and I left for a reason. I couldn’t stand the cold and the rain and the snow and the gray that accompanies the coming of winter. And then the winter comes and it often seems as if it will never end. Just when you think you can’t stand it for one more day, the sun comes out. I remember it well. What’s happening here is just a precursor to actual rain.

I’ve been in California since 1986. At first the weather was a real plus. Sunny nearly every day, warm even in January. I loved it. I was always able to plan any event, including my wedding, outside with no worry that it might rain, or even drizzle. It simply wouldn’t dare, certainly not between early April and late October. Then, the time change happens and it’s as if the southland has been given permission to chill. Literally.

My family finds it funny when I do my happy ‘it’s raining’ dance, and not just because I’m not much of a dancer. They can’t imagine being excited to see clouds dotting the atmosphere, to feel the air temperature turn south on the thermometer, to have the sky drop and ooze over the hills, white and gray and filled with moisture. I watch it all happen from the windows of my home and I smile. I run to the bedroom and my walk-in closet for a big cushy sweater and pull thick fuzzy socks onto my feet. I pour another cup of coffee or tea, maybe a hot cup of apple cider. That’s what I had this afternoon as the drizzly rain continued to sprinkle just enough to wet the roads. It’s not a storm but it is delicious never the less. It portends the coming of more.

Today it is cold, and dreary, and wet. The sun has never appeared and so the wet makes the air seem that much colder. My hair is curly, almost frizzy (the only downside of rain). I’m in sweatpants and a hoodie. The rainish is still dripping through the gutters. I can hear cars driving by, the wet road making the tires sound heavier, noisier; they crunch and sing. Which is OK because the birds seem to be huddled somewhere else, probably under a big dry tree branch or a house’s awning, or porch, not singing.

Today is dreary.

Dreary is a great word, conjuring up all kinds of wonderful feelings of cuddling up on the couch to watch old black and white movies all day long. Drizzle is another great word. It’s deliciously descriptive of air that is filled with moisture that hangs all the way to the ground without truly raining. Drizzle is heavy and thick and gray and makes me shiver.

Drizzle is the kind of weather we’re having today and I’m happy. I’m celebrating the finally arrival of fall and the coming of our winter, the rainy season. Just wait ‘til you read the delight I have when the sky opens and we are deluged with pounding water. Again, all apologies to those who suffered through Sandy and the current storm. You are all in my thoughts, in my heart.

But I live it out loud when the drizzle turns to drops and for just a day or so, the sky fades away, and we have honest-to-dog weather. It’s a happy time, one worthy of this blogger’s praise. 

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live out loud

From the shores of Lake Erie

by Lorin Michel Thursday, October 18, 2012 10:10 PM

Our son, Justin, is in school in New York, at State University New York Fredonia, studying theater production with an emphasis in lighting design and electricity. He’s a senior this year but will graduate in December of 2013 because he transferred and in order to obtain the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree he is working toward, SUNY requires two years from transfers.

We don’t talk to him very often. Over the course of the last two years, he has gotten progressively busier. It started when he got his first summer internship at a theater out on Long Island right after his sophomore year. He was in Tucson at the time. The internship went so well that he was able to go back for the holiday season last December and again for this past summer. Once he also made the decision to transfer to New York because the program was superior to that at the University of Arizona and started last January, we also aren’t able to see him as often. It’s simply too far. In fact, we haven’t seen him since March and even then it was with his girlfriend. We haven’t had good quality Justin time since … well, I don’t know how long.

We miss him but we understand how busy the schedules of college students are and especially college students studying theater. I have no doubt that my parents never heard from me when I was in college and working, and I was only about an hour and a half away. Of course, I was in school in the relative dark ages, in the 1980s, when there weren’t such modern conveniences as telephones. We had to trudge through piled snowdrifts without shoes to get to class; there was no way we could get home to see the parents.

Luckily times have progressed. Not only are there computers with skype and email, but there are cell phones with texting capabilities. It is virtually impossible to not stay in touch with your parents in this day and age, though Justin does a fairly admirable job. This is not complaining. I’m not feeling sorry for us. I’m simply stating a fact. We don’t have a lot of communication even with all of the communication tools at our disposal, largely because of his schedule. He’s a full time theater student, which means lots of classes, both in his chosen major and general education, and he’s also readying a show for production. It’s currently Chicago, and it opens tonight.

Which is why we heard from him this afternoon. There’s nothing more he can do; the show is ready to go. He just has to be there tonight when the curtain goes up. So he had time to call and chat with the parental units.

Justin and mom, at Disneyland, 1996

We were just getting back from our walk at lunchtime when Kevin’s cell phone rang. He didn’t have his glasses so he couldn’t read the name on the display. He handed it to me because he knew I could. It read: Call from Justin’s cell.

Yea!

We all talked for a half hour or so, about what’s going on with school and classes, about the production, about him needing a raincoat. As if on cue, a howling wind blew through the phone connection and he told us to hold on. Then he started to laugh. “There’s a storm blowing in off the lake,” he said. “It’s cold and blustery, and it’s gonna freakin’ pour.” And then he laughed again, that deep blustery laugh of his that we could feel deep in our soul, even over a cell phone speaker, over more than 2500 miles.  We could see his smile, his dark brown eyes, his rich auburn hair that’s probably just a little too long and curling at the collar. We could feel his presence.

We miss our boy and the man he has become. He’ll be home for Thanksgiving and maybe even this year for Christmas, and all three of us are looking forward to it.

We are officially parents whose kid has left the nest, and we’re OK with that, because he’s happy, he’s healthy and he’s living his life out loud. It’s as it should be. 

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A little bisque doll

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 17, 2012 10:17 PM

She stands about three and a half or so inches high. Her skin, once a pale white bisque is dirty now from years on this planet. I have no idea how many. She wears a little brown paper dress with a frilled collar of the same color and material. Her hands flair out at her side. I love her slightly pigeoned left toe, her painted blue headband tucked under her molded hair.

She sits on the shelf on my desk, directly in front of my computer, surrounded by other odd little mementos, books and items I’ve picked up along the way. There is a Santa memo holder though Santa is hidden by many notes. There’s a Team America mug, faded almost to obscurity, filled with a non-working flashlight, a Mighty Mouse spinning toy, and my First Holy Communion pin received so, so many years ago still in its plastic box, still safely secured on its foam packing.

There is a beautiful Swiss Army pen knife, still in its chrome box, a 1932 coin/plate commemorating Charles Dickens and a bookseller named Charles Sessler. Both sit atop a six-pack of reference books now gathering dust. There’s a dictionary, a thesaurus, a book of quotes, a world atlas, a grammar guide and a book of computer terms. They haven’t been opened in years, but they’re still cool to have.

To the right is a small corked bottle filled with poetry. Tiny pieces of magnetized words, a writer’s paradise, a Writer’s Remedy. Next to that is my Samantha Stevens doll in all of her Bewitched regalia, complete with hat and broom. Years ago when I worked at a dot com start up, the guys responsible for the look and feel of the site had designed and manufactured TV character dolls in their previous lives and they had all of them in their office. They gave me Samantha. She sits atop more books. A very old edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, The Children of Dickens, illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, and a Visionaire’s Fashion book.

There’s a little red pen floating in a magnetized red donut.

And next to it, front and center, my little bisque doll with her little bubble belly, like a little girl. There’s a hole in the bottom of her left foot. Maybe that’s why she turns it in slightly; maybe she was once on a stand.  Her face is cherubic. Her eyes are askance. Her tiny, pursed lips are painted red.

I don’t know where she came from. I think I found her at an antique swap meet years ago when we used to go to antique swap meets on Sunday mornings. They used to be quite the family outing. Everybody always had to buy one thing, even if it was just a bag of kettle corn which is often what all three of us ended up with, one each. On one occasion, I bought a little bisque doll. Now she watches over me every day.

I’d love to know what she’s thinking. Maybe that everything is wonderful if only because she has this wonderful little paper dress and it has a frilly collar and ice cream is the greatest invention ever. Maybe everything is wonderful because she gets to watch this wacky woman hitting keys on a computer every day. Maybe it’s because it’s Wednesday.

Maybe it’s just because.

I love her innocence. It makes me feel hopeful. It makes me want to celebrate something. Today, it’s her.

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How writing is like packing and vice versa

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 9, 2012 8:25 PM

Many years ago I got some very good advice about packing for a trip. It came from an old college roommate who had learned how to pack first when she went to school because she was out of state and had to fly. She gained further knowledge when she started working for Nestle and traveled all over the country. She was a self-acknowledged expert in how to pack efficiently. Her mantra was simple: layout everything you want to take with you then cut it in half.

I realize that it’s not always possible to truly cut the pile of clothing on your bed in half but it is possible to put close to half back into the closet. I’ve learned that there is very little I ever really miss when I travel other than my bed, probably because I know I’ll be back to that pair of jeans, boots or the jacket I really wish I had but don’t really need.

I’ve also learned that this packing advice applies nicely to the art of writing.

I’m asked often how it is that I can do what I do. Most people, even those who are decent if not necessarily prolific writers, have a hard time getting started and an even harder time learning how not to over-write. Over-writing can diminish the power of everything from an email to a novel. Trying too hard to say something that could be said quite simply confuses a sentence that should be quite clear.

Allow me this indulgence:

  • It was cool today and got cooler as the clouds rolled in from the north, dropping the temperature another 10º.
  • Today was a beautiful day with lots of clouds moving around a lot and sometimes blocking out the sun which made the air temperature a little bit cooler than it had been yesterday or even this morning but it was still really nice and all the puppies and kittens were happy.

See the difference there? One is fairly concise and communicates that it was a nice, cloudy day. The other one does the same thing but it takes way too long to get there. Also, puppies and kittens which are largely superfluous and have nothing to do with the weather.

I admit that I can sometimes get carried away with adjectives and metaphors (which, coincidentally, was the early draft of the great Jim Croce song Photographs and Memories). It happens. And I let it. When I’m in the zone and the words are flowing through my fingers like water, I just let them come. I embellish, I pontificate, I exaggerate. I over-write.

Here’s where the packing thing comes into play. Once I’m done with a first draft, whether it be a draft of an email or a blog post, I let it sit for a few minutes. During the day, I might move on, briefly, to something else; perhaps get a cup of coffee. When I write a first draft of a blog post, I usually save it and tuck it down in the bottom right of my screen and let it ferment a bit. Then I pull it up, pull-out my figurative red pen, and begin re-reading and editing, sometimes cutting out entire paragraphs that don’t add anything to the overall story or draft.

Then I re-read again and edit some more. And then do it a third time. Even with that, I sometimes I still have a typo and I thank my husband and bestest bud Bobbi for pointing them out.

So the moral of this post is this: editing is to writing as packing is to traveling. I think about what I’m trying to communicate and make sure to say it as succinctly as possible. I think about where I’m going and for how long, and decide if I really need three pairs of jeans when two will be just fine. 

Editing is also difficult, in the same way that putting away that third pair of jeans, largely because I’m attached. I have also learned to see what I’m writing objectively. Working with word counts in articles helps, too. As far as packing is concerned, I am constrained by the size of my carry-on and whether it will fit in the overhead compartment.

Bottom line: my ability to edit is directly related to my college roommate who once taught me how to pack. It’s all just a matter of asking myself questions that often begin with “do I need…” and then deciding that maybe, I don’t.

Which leaves me here, living it out loud with my adjectives and memories. And my red pen.

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live out loud

In flavor of potato chips and contests

by Lorin Michel Thursday, October 4, 2012 10:08 PM

You may recall that one of my favorite guilty pleasure foods is potato chips, specifically Lays potato chips. The original in the bright yellow bag. None of those baked Lays for me. I’m a purist and believe that potato chips should be deep-fried in a vat of disgusting oil and salted enough for flavor. Too little and they’re dull, too much and it’s too much. I rarely eat potato chips anymore as they’re more of a young woman’s food. A young woman without weight or skin problems. I was all three not too awfully long ago. I could sit and polish off a bag of Lays in one sitting, washing it down with some wine. I’m older than young now and potato chips tend to go both to my arteries and then settle slightly south.

Oh, but how I love the crunch of a chip that is perfectly cooked, not too thin and not too thick, not even a hint of brown on the edges, just the right amount of salt. It’s one of those things that makes me believe that Dog does exist.

Today I decided to also “like” Lays on Facebook and for more reasons than the crunch and the salt and everything else explained above. Last week, Kevin and I split a sandwich and a small, lunch size bag of Lays, and he happened to notice that on the back of the bag was information about a contest to come up with a new flavor and name for a new chip to debut in January 2013. Being the marketing types that we are, coupled with the fact that we both like Lays potato chips and we more than like the potential prize, we decided to enter.

For the last few days we’ve been playing with flavor ideas and names, coming up with potential ingredients as well as a fun description (not to exceed 140 characters). Today I entered the first 15 we came up with. We actually had 18 but the system didn’t like three and kicked them back. Seems they may have been too close to other brands that are currently on the market. I guess if we ate more chips, we might know this. No matter, we have a few more to do for tomorrow and then we sit back and wait to collect our eventual winnings.

Ha.

There are several rounds of judging based on interest, and it is eventually boiled down to three. I believe all three flavors will be created and available for purchase in specific testing markets. If one takes off, it could be worth a lot of money. As it is, the winner will be awarded at least $1 million. We could live on that for a little while.

Contests are funny things. They entice with the promise of great prizes and recognition that mostly never materializes. It’s a bit like playing the lottery. Kevin and Lorin and millions of their closest friends have entered this Do Us A Flavor Contest, each posting more than one entry. The odds are astronomical, but stranger things have happened.

Years ago when I was a kid, and thus still regularly eating things like potato chips with nary a care, my mother entered what was then called a slogan contest. I think it may have been for my dad’s company but I honestly don’t remember. See previous reference to being a kid. I was probably less than 10, and maybe even younger. She won a brand-new and fairly big color console television. It was like a piece of furniture and probably a Zenith or Philco or maybe RCA. They were very popular in the late 1960s. A year or so later she entered the same contest and won another color console television. I think I remember she and my dad selling that one. I thought it was amazing that my mother had won a television. None of my friends had mothers who won things. My mother was the way coolest mom around.

Ever since, I’ve been trying to win things, too. I’ve always been very competitive. I’ve won some writing contests. I don’t believe I’ve ever won any kind of contest like this, but there’s always a first.

Throughout history there have been contests for all sorts of things including one created by Napoleon Bonaparte who offered a prize of 12,000 francs to the person who could come up with the most innovative method of storing food (this is where we got canned food) and one created by his nephew to find an alternative to butter. Say hello to Hippolyte Mège-Mouriez, the man responsible for margarine. Nanotechnology and artificial intelligence were both the result of contests, as was the creation of the steam tractor in Wisconsin (by Oshkosh and Green Bay) and the first private aircraft to be launched into space. Burt Rutan and his Scaled Components won $10 million with SpaceShipOne.

And in the 1770s, as famine was sweeping through Europe, the French Provincial Academie de Besancon offered a prize for discovering a food capable of reducing the incidence of hunger. Antoine Parmentier won. With the lowly potato.

I’m celebrating Mr. Parmentier and his little South American vegetable, at first believed to be poisonous and the cause of leprosy. At least today we know it only causes crazy people to enter new potato chip flavor contests. 

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Yarn in a tree and other things

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, September 26, 2012 8:46 PM

It was 54º this morning and I started entertaining the idea that maybe fall was coming after all, a week or so later than it was supposed to arrive but better late than never. I wore a long sleeve t-shirt on our walk. A first in a very long time. I was jaunty (not), I was excited (please), I was ready for the day (blah blah blah), I was awake (hardly) and because I was jaunty, excited, ready and awake I found myself noticing things around the ‘hood.

A dog barked, sort of muffled and un-enunciated, like he was bored with having to say anything but since being a dog is his job and we were walking by he had to pretend to be concerned. We weren’t.

An old political sign in a neighbor’s window – people even more liberal than me – was shouting their support for Prop 8, a gay marriage initiative that failed here in 2008, in one of the most liberal states in the country. Let’s put it this way. Our 55 electoral votes are a foregone conclusion. We are bluer than blue, and happy about it. There is no presidential campaigning here; just presidential fundraising.

Rounding the corner onto Rockfield was a child’s sneaker wedged in the gutter. I wondered where the child was but not for long.

Up the hill was a golden retriever with her head stuck through a wrought iron fence as she watched us walk by before retrieving her head and prancing back to her dad. No fuss, no muss. No barking. Not even a growl.

Coyotes were howling in the hills. Oh, wait. It was the little kids at Red Oak Elementary pretending to be coyotes howling in the hills. They do a good job. I think I heard them last night, too, around 1 am.

An orange Chevy Camaro with wide white racing stripes across the hood, roof and back and an Indianapolis 500 logo emblazoned on each door, passenger and driver, roared down Lindero Canyon. I wondered if it was the actual pace car. My husband assured me that it wasn’t, couldn’t possibly be. But what if it was? That would be pretty cool. A little bit of the Indy right here on September 26.

Two perfectly carved jack o-lanterns on a front porch on Savona. I think they might be plastic, which is better because they won’t rot and smell bad. Especially since it’s still September and Halloween is still more than a month away. But it was kind of fun that someone, obviously and hopefully with children, was already excited enough about the possibilities of lots of ghouls and goblins and too much candy.

There were a number of screws in the road, all seemingly missing their point. There must be something ironic and potentially funny about that, but I couldn’t seem to find it.

On the way home, a young girl, or maybe it was a boy, dressed in shorts and sneakers, wearing a sweatshirt and a baseball cap, backpack firmly on his/her back, carrying a skateboard on his/her way to school. Walking very slowly and very late, or perhaps he/she wasn’t late at all and not on his/hear way to school.

Because…

…it’s Yom Kippur, and I’m obviously a bad Jew because I didn’t know, which is probably OK considering that I’m not Jewish.

And then, there it was. Yarn hanging from a tree branch, thick brown yarny strings. I wondered how they got there. Were the strings part of an afghan, or from an old Raggedy Ann doll’s hair? Maybe it was a school project that went horribly awry. It just proved to me that each day is an adventure. You never know what or who you’re going to encounter.

Some days there are friendly people, most days there are dogs, often there is money in the form of a head’s up penny on the ground. Sometimes we get screwed. And once in a while there is yarn, something to tie up this little celebratory experiment we like to call life. And other things.

Living it out loud.

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live out loud

He's Batman

by Lorin Michel Sunday, September 23, 2012 9:31 PM

Regular readers may recall that my favorite superhero was and remains Batman. I like that he’s always been dark and mysterious, that he became a crime fighter to avenge the death of his parents. I especially like that he doesn’t have any special powers; he just has really cool toys, not the least of which is the Batmobile. It’s always been a great car, regardless of the incarnation. The 1960s version was a bit cartoonish, as was the entire series. But it was campy and fun. Then Michael Keaton got some great wheels in the Tim Burton smash in 1989. Christian Bale’s dark night got some equally fabulous wheels in his trilogy, including a motorcycle.

Since his creation by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane in 1939, Batman has been known as the Bat-Man, the Caped Crusader, and the Dark Knight. In Davis, California there is another name for the creature who wears a bat-themed costume and possesses indomitable will. Meet the Dog Knight.

He's Batman

He’s a three-year-old Formosan, a type of small to medium sized mountain dog indigenous to Taiwan. They’re known to be alert, faithful, bold and fearless, all characteristics that fit this Knight whose name is, appropriately, Batman.

Batman was found in an alley in Taiwan after apparently being hit by a car that didn’t stop to help. The dog dragged himself from the street, and was discovered several days later, his spine fractured, his back legs useless. A local veterinarian did the initial surgery and then decided there was virtually no chance of adoption. They put him into a foster care system and left him in a small area by himself. A rescue group in San Ramon, California called Love & Second Chances heard of Batman’s plight and raised the $1400 needed to fly him to his new country. Batman underwent more surgery but the veterinarian had sad news: the window of opportunity for the most optimal treatment has passed. Batman would never walk again.

Love & Second Chances is a group of interconnected rescuers in Northern California committed to helping abused, neglected, homeless and dogs on death row to find loving homes. No dog is too big, too old, too injured to qualify for their help.

New legs!

Batman now has a wheelchair and tears across a parking lot, over grass, even up and down stairs. He plays with other dogs, he chews on his toys, he’s as happy a boy as he can be, especially when he’s sporting his special Batman cape. Recently, he has also showed signs of something called reflexive walking where he can wiggle his back legs a bit. He’s able to spin around on the ground and even to use the legs sparingly because his spinal cord is steering his movements without the use of his brain. This 26-pound hero is now being outfitted for custom leg braces that will be donated by a canine-prosthetics company, enabling him to also get around without his Batmobile.

I came across Batman’s story earlier this morning and watched the youtube video put out by the group who is trying to find him a forever home. On one hand it’s painful to watch; I wanted to turn away, especially when they showed some of the dog’s injuries. But when I saw him racing around on his wheels, and playing with the other dogs in the park, it made me smile. I’m not going to embed it but here is the link: http://youtu.be/puN4ZcS4AtU

This dog was showing, in just the few minutes of video that are available, the power of determination, a dominance of spirit and the strength of character that we all wish we possessed ourselves. Dogs are a special species in that they simply are what they are. There’s no pretense; they don’t feel sorry for themselves. They rarely sit around and think that the world has dealt them a bad hand. All the more amazing because dogs like Batman definitely got dealt from a deck that was stacked against him. But he doesn’t let it get him down. I doubt he even knows that he’s different. He’s simply alive and living it out loud.

That’s why they call him the Dog Knight.

The Batmobile

So often dogs can show us the people we can and should be. Rising above challenges, not letting anything get in our way, being the superheroes we always imagined we would be, the crusaders for justice that we were meant to personify. Bold, fearless, living with joyous abandon; loving life.

He’s Batman and that’s what he showed me today.  

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live out loud

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