The story of a vintage puppy and his pig

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 11, 2011 10:38 PM

When he was a puppy and throughout most of his dog years, Maguire was the original toy destroyer. It wasn’t uncommon to give him a new plastic or rubber squeaker and within minutes, there would be piles of tiny, incomprehensible pieces of said plastic or rubber on the floor complete with the offending squeaker lying on the floor next to it. This happened for quite a while. You’d think his parents would be smarter and provide more indestructible toys. Eventually, they did.

We started buying plush toys.

The routine was the same. Mom – that would be me – would go to the pet store, usually for food or treats (known affectionately in the Michel household as cookies) and while walking by the wall of adorable toys hanging on hooks just begging to go home to Maguire, casually grab one or two of the cutest ones. We were big fans of the squeaking hedgehog for a while. “Hedge.” There was the little blonde chipmunk. “Chip.” And the Christmas related toys like a reindeer – “Rudy” – a long red elf-like dude – “elf” – and something green. “Grinch.” I think I remember “Scrooge” making an appearance as well.

I would come into the house, and put the bag containing said toy on the counter in the kitchen near the junk drawer where the scissors live, and turn my head ever so slightly in the direction of the door. There he’d be. Standing tall, ears perked, understanding instinctively that Mom had something for the pup. I would turn my back to him and he would come in and sit within inches of my leg. I could feel his breath on me; his stare bore through me as he waited, patiently, drooling major puddles on the floor, for his new toy. After removing all tags and stickers – and can I just sidebar here for a minute: the stickers manufacturers put on plush dog toys are nearly impossible to peel off of faux fur. Please think of the poor parents trying to get a toy ready for their waiting dog who is puddling on the floor and flooding us out of the house while we pull and tug and fight and grind away at the “I squeak!” stickie – I would turn, and introduce Maguire to his new toy. Always with a single name, preferably one syllable, and I would repeat it two or three times as he’d stare at it, willing it into his mouth. Then I would relinquish control. He would grab it, gently, and take it to his rug, just outside the kitchen and lie down to gently and intently pull it apart. If Kevin or I came within inches of him and his new toy, he would elicit a guttural growl as he protected his domain and his kill.

Because that’s what it was. The lion had stalked his prey as his mommy carefully prepared it and then he had to make sure no one else got a piece of it. And piece of it was key. Just like he would destroy the plastic and rubber toys, he would grab onto the plush toy, usually around the butt area, and begin to pull at the threads. He was very dedicated, very focused. Time after time after time, he would return with his teeth nibbling and pulling, nibbling and pulling, nibbling and pulling until he’d open a hole. Then he’d get more aggressive, digging in to pull out the stuffing, mouthful by mouthful, depositing the white tuffs of fiber filling next to the carcass. Soon there would be a pile of white and a squeaker next to it. His work done, he’d rise, shake and move on to stalk another.

Often times we’d pick up the carcass, re-stuff it, sew it up and re-present it as one of his old friends. He’d only pull it apart again.

Maguire and his pig, on his rug, August 11

These days, he’s older and the hunt isn’t as intense. Still, I came in the house the other day, after stopping at PetCo for some Zuke’s Hip Action cookies and finding an adorable little pink pig. It had been a while since Maguire got a new toy. I put the bag on the counter in the kitchen, next to the junk drawer, pulled out the scissors and prepared the new toy for my boy. Said boy stood behind me, waiting. He can’t sit anymore nor can he hear, but he still knows when there’s new prey. I presented him with Pig, and he seems to be completely in love. He brings Pig out from the bedroom during the day so that the little pink body lays in the family room with him. At night, Pig is carried back into the bedroom and deposited near his bed. Maguire then flops down on the carpet with his head resting on his little buddy. It’s the new routine.

There has been no carnage. Only a vintage puppy and his new best friend, a small pink plush with a pork-ish name, hanging together on the rug in the pink of the setting sun.

Once upon a time there was a dog and his pig, and they traveled the world of the house together, discovering adventure, finding love, and it was good.

It was puppy love.

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Early morning in the OP

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 4, 2011 10:54 PM

Our little corner of the world is pretty, and pretty small. We’re nestled snugly between three other townships: Agoura Hills and Westlake Village of Los Angeles County and Thousand Oaks in Ventura County. This is significant for tax reasons. LA County’s sales tax is currently 8.75% (9.25 in Santa Monica), Ventura’s is 7.25%. We’re in Ventura County. It helps when buying things. It also seems to help from a car insurance standpoint. It’s lower, though I’m fairly sure the sales tax has next to nothing to do with that. It’s still a nice perk.

But neither the sales tax nor the car insurance rates had any bearing on this morning. We woke up about 6:45, both of us shocked that Maguire was still asleep. After a stint of waking up consistently at around 3 am for weeks, and one week, rising before 2 to go out, he has been sleeping through the night again. Maybe he had a bladder infection; maybe it’s because I haven’t been allowing him to drink an entire bowl of water before settling down for a long mid-summer night’s dream. Bad mom. But he seems none the worse for it, and Kevin and I are getting a better night’s sleep, too. All the Michel’s are happy.

Back to today. We rolled out of bed and put the dog out in the back yard for a pee and a cookie – not together of course – while we got ourselves outfitted for a walk. Kevin sauntered, yawning, to the kitchen to get some coffee started. I brought the dog in, checked to make sure his water bowl was full (it was, since I’m an evil dog-mother who doesn’t allow her vintage puppy to drink at night), and out the front door we went.

It was cool, not much more than 60º and quiet. The kids aren’t in school so no houses were stirring. Mini vans and SUVs remained parked in the driveways. A dog barked in the distance, a few cars rolled down Pesaro carrying people on their way to work. Because the sun was still low in the sky, most of the neighborhood was bathed in shadow, making the light brightly gray and the air brisk. We walked out toward Lindero Canyon, passing several early walkers and runners, a man walking his full-size Doberman pinscher and a miniature version. I’ve seen him before walking the dogs, usually during the heat of the day. He’s often just in shorts, especially lately because it’s been hot. This morning he was in sweatpants and a t-shirt. We saw one of our neighbors from the next cul de sac over. We don’t know her name but she’s always very friendly. She walks every morning alone. I suspect it’s her “me time.”  She has at least two kids and during the day, watches a number of other children. Still, she smiles.

People are friendlier in the morning. It’s like the harsh reality of the day hasn’t yet set in. Maybe there’s still sleep in their eyes, but everyone smiles and waves, says “good morning,” and “have a great walk.” We responded accordingly.

I didn’t appreciate early mornings until I got a little older and until I moved out here. Closer to LA, it’s louder. There’s less peace. Here, the peace rises with the sun and only dissipates slightly at rush hour. Of course, rush hour consists of a few more cars on Lindero. It’s never really rushed, regardless of the hour.

As we walked, the cool air began to warm slightly, or maybe it was because we walked up one of the neighborhood hills. As we moved from the shade into the sun, we felt like we were recharging our batteries, feeding on the power of the universe, readying ourselves for the day to come. It felt good, positive and real.

Then the day began, and I had to go into the Valley for a meeting and traffic was bad and the smog had settled across the Valley basin and there were horns and there was noise. But for a little while, in the early of the morning, I was in the peace of the OP. It made the day perfect. 

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Squirrel wars: Battle for the backyard

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

Day 13. The standoff continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage, not old

by Lorin Michel Monday, July 25, 2011 9:54 PM

We rarely buy anything new, other than wine but since we think of wine as food, that doesn’t really count. Neither does a pair of jeans or socks and underwear; shoes are bought new, as are computers, though I did buy my iPad used. I figured it was something to play with, something to use only occasionally, so used was better. And less money for something I really didn’t need but just wanted.

We’ve spent some time on the need vs. want with Justin. He’s in college and doesn’t have unlimited funds, even from the parental ATM. He may want a blender but does he need it? He may want a trip to Italy, but does he need it? He needs a roof over his head, he needs food. There’s a fine line.

Both Kevin and I subscribe to the idea of working to build character rather than expecting it to build itself. We believe that character comes from learning, from living life and truly experiencing it, from working for what we have so that we enjoy it more. It’s something we’ve tried to instill in Justin as well. It’s something I learned as a teenager. I wanted a horse; I was sure of it. My parents said they thought that was just a great idea but that I should probably spend some time in a stable, actually being around horses, to learn about them before deciding which horse I should get. I didn’t have a problem with that and promptly got a job mucking stalls. I hated it. And then a horse I had led from his stall in order to clean it decided he didn’t want to go back in. He bucked and reared and came down on my foot. But I learned.

I learned that I didn’t really want a horse because I didn’t want to have to take care of one. I also didn’t need a horse.

When Justin was in high school, he got an allowance and when he turned 16, we told him we thought it would be a good idea if he got a part time job so he could learn how to better budget his time and make his own money to buy his own stuff, stuff that he wanted (we’ve always taken care of the needs). We thought it would teach him how life actually works. You don’t just get what you want, you have to work for it. He did not want to get a job, but he did, learning the fine art of filling out an application and dressing appropriately for an interview. He’s pretty much held a job ever since.

When he was 16 and learning to drive, we got him a car. Neither of our cars was appropriate for him to learn on – one too big, one too fast – so we found a 1994 Honda Civic LX. It had four doors, four cylinders and two airbags. It was perfect. Many of his friends got brand new cars when they were old enough to drive, as if the mere act of turning 16 warranted them having the newest car in the family. We didn’t think that taught anything so we went with an older car. Vintage.

When we bought our house, we bought one pre-owned. The Porsche we bought on ebay, figuring we could restore as necessary. The Range Rover we bought pre-owned as well, albeit from an owner who rarely drove it as it was a third vehicle; he kept it garaged. It looked and acted new; but it wasn’t. Now it’s also vintage.

Across the street, our neighbor’s daughter recently graduated from high school. They sent her to Europe for three weeks and then, just yesterday, she pulled up in front of the house in a brand new Fiat. We stood in the kitchen window, watching her and wondering if maybe we had done something wrong. Maybe we should have bought Justin a brand new car, maybe we should have brand new cars, too. But we didn’t and we don’t. We’ve chosen vintage, but not old. Even our puppy is vintage.

It’s how we like it. We think it gives us character, all of us, even Justin. He never complained, he loves his Honda, except that the A/C isn’t working very well (we’ll get that fixed; he does live in the desert), and we hope that when he’s older, he’ll better understand that new isn’t always better, sometimes it’s just new.

Maybe our philosophy is outdated, perhaps our way of thinking is old, but we like to think of it as vintage. Vintage, after all, has character. Just look at Maguire.

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The night stalker: a vintage puppy story

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has become Maguire, the Night Stalker.

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

The cycle of Sunday

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:42 PM

Another week ends, another week begins. I’ve always been a little cloudy on the official first day of the week. I’ve heard it as both Sunday and Monday, though I tend to fall with those who think the latter. Otherwise, why would Sunday be the day of rest? We certainly don’t need a day of rest to begin a week but it sure is a nice way to end one. Today was no exception.

Up early – of course. We have a dog that no longer sleeps through the night and is usually up for good or at least for his morning cookie, around 6. The sun was already up, too, streaming lightly through the trees just off the back patio. It was quiet. Nothing stirred other than his supreme puppiness but after a tour around the house, an outside cookie –chomp, chomp, crunch – two Hip Actions, loaded with glucosamine and chondroitin to help ease his arthritis, and a big water slurp, he huffed down for his early morning nap. Once his tags were arranged on the floor, he puffed one more time, and then fell asleep. Peace descended.

Kevin brought in the newspaper around 7:30 and we arranged it on the bed in the order we like to read it. I always start with Calendar and Arts & Books, followed by the front page. He starts with the flyers and inserts, then moves onto Sports. We trade the Travel section, the California section and Business. Depending on the Sunday, we can be reading anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour plus. Today was a short day. We sipped some coffee as the sprinklers sputtered to life. 8 am.

We went for a walk, and came back to make breakfast. Yesterday I picked up some peach cobbler cinnamon bread at the farmer’s market. I sliced and buttered it, then grilled it. While that was happening, I sautéed freshly sliced nectarines, also purchased at the market, in butter and cinnamon. Turkey bacon sizzled in the next skillet. When the bread was toasted on both sides, I flipped it onto two plates, dabbed each with butter, arranged the nectarines on top, put a couple pieces of bacon on the side. Voila. Breakfast was served.

Later in the day, we went for a motorcycle ride, just a short one. It’s so freeing being on the bike, zooming through the canyons, feeling the wind and the sun. It’s like flying on the ground; it’s a feeling like no other.

The first motorcycle, the Petroleum Reitwagon (riding car), was designed and built by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Bad Cannstatt, Germany in 1885. It looked a little like a bicycle but functioned quite a bit differently. It also had the first internal combustion, petroleum-fueled engine.

The French had previously built a steam-propelled motorcycle in 1868, called the Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede. Sylvester H. Roper Roxbury, of Massachusetts built the American Roper steam velocipede in 1869. Hildebrand & Wolfmüller became the first gasoline production motorcycle and the first to carry the name in 1894. Until World War I, the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world was Indian, producing more than 20,000 motorcycles every year. Then Harley-Davidson got into the act, followed by Moto Guzzi who produced very radical designs, as did the German company NSU. Enter the Japanese: Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki. Sport bikes, dirt bikes, cruiser bikes and touring bikes. They get good gas mileage, none are particularly safe though some are safer than others, and they sell. Nearly 500,000 two-wheelers a year in the U.S.

We, of course, are only interested in one, our Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad 1500, the big, bad cruiser. It’s paid for, has 20,000 plus miles on it and we love it. Especially on this Sunday afternoon, when the air is warm, the breeze is cool, and we’re celebrating the end of the week.

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In which I return home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Click your heels together and celebrate.

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Trippin'

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 30, 2011 10:34 PM

Tomorrow morning at 10 am, I will lift-off from Los Angeles International airport, whose code is known world-wide as LAX, and travel via a Boeing 737-300 first to Chicago where we will land and I will not de-plane, then lift-off again for Baltimore. If all goes according to plan, I will arrive at approximately 7:15 pm and my friend Pam will be waiting.

Pam and I haven’t seen each other in over 20 years. A year and a half ago, we re-connected on Facebook. We exchanged emails and then decided to talk. Our first conversation was 5 hours. It was fabulous, and solidified a friendship that began in our first year of high school but became sporadic because my family moved away and we saw each other only occasionally for several years after. Twenty plus years later, we seemed to have grown in the same trajectory. We like the same things, we think the same way, we have the same sense of humor. Our conversations are relaxed and easy, flowing. It’s really amazing and I’m equal parts excited and apprehensive.

I’ll spend one night with Pam and then travel up to Manchester, New Hampshire where my mother will pick me up on Saturday night. On Sunday, we’ll celebrate my niece’s 12th birthday; on Monday my mother’s 70th birthday. It’s a good weekend to travel back.

Still, I’ll miss my men, Kevin and Maguire. (Justin is in New York for the summer so he’s long been in the ‘miss’ category.) Tonight, I pulled my suitcase from the laundry room, trying to be quiet. I didn’t want to freak out Maguire, though he can’t hear anyway. Still, he heard me, or sensed what I was doing. I carried the smaller of my wheeled-cases toward the bedroom, and he was on high-alert. Mom? Are you going somewhere? Why yes, honey bear; I am. But mom… how can you leave me? Complete with the big bear face and the perky ears.

It’s hard to explain to a hearing-challenged vintage puppy that mom will be gone for a few days. He wants to understand but all he sees is the suitcase. His ears droop.

Tomorrow what I’ll see first is the back of my eyelids, followed by the rising sun and a shiny airplane that will transport me to the other side of the country within hours. It’s always somewhat amazing to me.

Tomorrow I will see my friend. Saturday I will see my family. Tuesday I will see my husband and my dog.

I celebrate them all; I love them all. I wish all a happy independence day weekend.

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The ritual of the cookie

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 29, 2011 10:21 PM

Dogs, like kids, have a routine. If you stray from the routine, they get confused and stressed. Accidents happen. It is always best to stay on point, and do things at the same time each day in the same way. This keeps everyone happy and adds a nice cadence to what can otherwise be a hectic existence. Knowing, for instance, that the dog expects his nightly walk at 7 o’clock each night gives us a nice bookend to the 3:30 am wake up call that has become the new routine. When you have a vintage puppy like Maguire, new routines are introduced by necessity.

But today, I’m celebrating the routines we have had since he was a shiny, new puppy. I speak of the morning cookie.

Each day, we rise when the dog does, now more to protect the floor than anything else. He used to sleep in; no longer. He wakes, shakes and walks stiffly into the living room where he waits patiently for maybe 10 seconds. This is our window of opportunity. We must get to him and fast. We do, or more often, Kevin does. I handle the night shift.

He goes out into the front yard to pee because that’s the routine; we do not pee in the back yard. Somehow that is unseemly first thing in the morning. We like to pee where the world can see us as they’re going to school, going to work, going for a run, beginning their day. We don’t dawdle in the morning because as soon as the relief is complete, the race is on to get from the front door to the back door, him moving a bit more slowly than he used to, but still scuttling across the floor, trailing drool behind him all because of the ritual of the cookie. And because Kevin or I is following close at paw, a big milkbone in our grasp. He goes out onto the patio, pivots, grabs the cookie from our hand and takes it out into the yard. It’s always to the same place. He drops the bone onto the grass and hunkers over it, protecting it from predators like his parents, because we obviously want to take it away from him. We obviously want it for ourselves. Maybe we want to dunk it in our morning coffee! He shifts his head slightly to the right because that’s where the attack will come from, and bares his teeth. Then the growling begins, the snarling commences, the protective armor descends. He talks some smack.

Do. Not. Come closer, parental unit. I will chomp on you instead of this cookie.

Each night, we all go for a walk. Maguire’s internal alarm clock goes off at 7 and the nighttime dance begins, jazz feet on the floor. We get him ready and soon we’re strolling through the neighborhood, sniffing each blade of grass, huffing and puffing at each passing dog, ignoring each passing person. Clarification: We stroll, he sniffs, huffs and puffs. When we get back to the house, and release him from his harness, he stands on the rug outside of the kitchen, watching, ears at attention, waiting. I go to the cookie door, the area in the pantry where we keep the dog treats, grab half a cookie, and off we race again to the back door for more growling, snarling, the occasional bark, and munching.

It’s our routine, our lives and our ritual, for fourteen and a half years. I celebrate the growl every day.

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Chasing clouds and shadows

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 28, 2011 9:35 PM

The strangest thing happened today. We left the house around 12:30 for our lunchtime walk. It had been a lovely morning, with a slight breeze, the air warm and drifting into the house. But as we started down Pesaro, the sun suddenly ducked out of sight. Our heads automatically snapped up in the direction of the sky. What had happened? Where had it gone? Would it be back?

It sounds odd to anyone who doesn’t live in Southern California, or the desert in general. The. Sun. Does. Not. Disappear. Midday. In. June. Certainly not during the day, and even as night falls, it seems to go kicking and sizzling into the sea. It’s an anomaly, a little seen phenomenon, potential cause for alarm. We’re not used to it. We don’t know what to do. We saw Independence Day.

So what impossibly huge element had obscured our precious orb and cast our beautiful southland into near darkness? Clouds. Yep. Right up there in the sky, a bunch of them. Thick and white, some tinged with gray, of all different sizes and shapes, and while there was quite a bit of blue sky drifting around and between, the clouds were big enough to temporarily block the shine.

We soldiered on anyway, under the shade, figuring – correctly – that the sun would reappear shortly. It did, but continued to play hide and seek, duck and cover, allowing all elements on the ground including us to cast shadows before taking them away. It was an odd little ritual, a sort of rumba, one Kevin and I were OK to try. Plus, the no-shadow moments kept the air a little cooler even if did raise the humidity level a bit. That’s another thing we don’t have here in Southern California in the summer. Evidently they did have some humidity up north today, though. My friend Lenni, who lives in the Bay Area (San Mateo), said it rained all day up there. They were also expecting thunder and lightning. She was preparing her cat, Phoebe, for Armageddon. Maguire has never been adversely affected by thunder; doesn’t seem to care when it happens. He yawns and rolls over. Of course, now he can’t hear it so it matters little. When I was a kid, our dog Chaudee, a little black ball of fluff, was terrified of storms. He could sense them coming hours before they’d arrive. The skies of New England would be bright and sunny, but the dog would have stowed himself safely under the coffee table where he proceeded to shake and whimper until the storm finally relieved itself. And then he’d really freak.

We weren’t going to get any of that today, there was no rain in the forecast. I doubt the American Meteorological Society even knew there would be clouds. It simply doesn’t rain here in June. Or July. Or August, September, October. But on those days when clouds dot the atmosphere and accumulate, when they make the sky seem close enough to touch, as the shadows on the ground disappear and the world flattens out… those are the June days I celebrate.

Because those are the days when our shadows get to dance.

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