Dogs, politics and wine

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 3, 2012 8:29 PM

It occurred to me recently that one of the most interesting ways to tell what is important in your world, other than your family, friends and career, your hopes and dreams, your infinite possibilities, is to take a look at your Facebook page. I’ve discovered that mine is nearly equal parts of “likes” for dog-related information, Democratic-related politics and fun wine pages. This doesn’t take into account my friends. These are strictly the pages that I have liked and that seem to post quite a bit.

Some will undoubtedly begin to taper off in about two months. Once the presidential election is over, I expect many of the political pages to not be as lively, and by that time I won’t much care. Depending on the outcome (full disclosure: I am a proud Democrat and have been for my entire adult life), I may need to ramp up the wine pages. And the dog pages.

I don’t use Facebook a lot. I post things occasionally. This blog has a page, and I have a personal page. I don’t have hundreds of friends. I look at my page in the morning to see what everyone has been up to; I look again in the afternoon and usually before I got to bed. When I post on my Live it out loud page, it’s usually a link to my actual blog. When I post to my personal page, it tends to be photos, usually of dogs. Sometimes I share photos of dogs that other people have posted. Once in a while I find a video on one of the political sites I visit and I share that, and it’s almost always a video of dogs.

Sensing a pattern?

Ever since we lost Maguire, my need to see dogs online has increased. I can’t give it a percentage because I only deal in anecdotal evidence, largely because math has never been my strong suit. Still, I’d say that I now have at least 10 more pages than I had before. I had long been a fan of Dog Bless You but then I also added Warrior Canine Connection (who trains service dogs for returning veterans and who, together with Dog Bless You, runs the puppy cam showing Holly’s Half Dozen), and one of the puppies – Abby – now has her own page as well because she is now with foster parents as she starts training. I’m anxiously awaiting the page for Lucy – who has also left to live with foster parents to start training. I just love Lucy.

I have A dog’s purpose and Tuesday; I have Tucker Hirsch, a therapy dog in Honolulu, and Old Dog Haven. I like Forever Friends Golden Retriever Rescue in Ventura County, The Animal Rescue Site and others.

They all make me smile. They also make me miss my boy. But seeing dogs daily, even if it’s just online, makes me feel a little less lonely. The adoption sites make me want to adopt them all, especially the dogs that are on Old Dog Haven. I see those wise, grizzled and gray faces and I’m ready to load up the Rover and bring them here. (Even my car has a dog name: “Rover,” albeit a really unimaginative dog name.) We’re not ready to adopt another dog yet – the grief is still too pitched – so when I’m feeling down, I look at puppies to feel better.

I look at puppies a lot.

I also look at wine pages of which there is no shortage. They keep me distracted when I’m missing my Maguire, and they make me happy in a different kind of way. Political pages do not make me happy but they do feed my addiction. I admit to loving politics, to Being Liberal and to wanting to Re-Elect Obama.

Wine pages also make me wish for a deep red wine, swirling in a glass, the bouquet wafting up and filling me with impending joy. There’s Wino Barbie, and The California Wine Club. There’s Magnavino and Baldacci and Lido Bay and Zaca Mesa and Niner and LaBelle in New Hampshire. The Frugal Wine Snob points me in the direction of a good red under $20.

Then there is the Wandering Dog Wine Bar that neatly combines both my love of dogs and my love of wine. If there was a way to get politics in there, it would be the trifecta. Might I suggest Wandering Dogs Against Romney Wine Bar? I think it has a nice ring to it. It swirls nicely in the glass. When the light hits it just right, I think I can see my boy’s wise, grizzled, gray mug, proudly wearing his Obama bandana.

Of wondrous desktop images and savvy screensavers

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 27, 2012 8:28 PM

In May of 2009, we went to Napa Valley with Roy and Bobbi to celebrate Bobbi’s birthday. We had been there previously, and had stayed in the quaint town of Yountville, inside the valley itself. This time, we decided to do something different. We rented a house. It would be so much easier to rise, shower, meet for coffee and bagels in the kitchen before heading off to wineries, returning sometime after 4 to relax, maybe in front of a fire, while we cooked our own meal and ate it in a homey setting. The last thing any of us wanted to do after a day of tasting would be to go out to dinner.

Our criteria was simple: two bedrooms, two full baths, a nice kitchen, private and near the Silverado Trail. The Silverado Tray is where all of the high-end red wine producers are located. Wineries like Heitz Cellars, Chimney Rock, Silver Oak and so many more. We spent much time on the VRBO website and discovered an incredible house atop a hill just off the trail, surrounded by 25 acres of grapes. According to the pictures, it was spectacular, complete with a baby grand piano. And the price would be less than we paid to stay at the Yountville Inn. We decided to go for it.

My Mac desktop photo, from Napa Valley

The pictures did not truly do the place justice. It was beyond spectacular as to border on exquisite, incredible, earth-shatteringly fabulous. We couldn’t believe our luck. The house was so amazing we almost didn’t want to leave it to go wine tasting. I said “almost.” From the road, a long drive wound through some farmland, past a big gray cow who would stand near the road and simply stare as we drove by, and up the hill to where the house awaited. From the front of the house, vineyards stretched further than our eyes could see. From the back of the house, the farmland and valley would be seen. Inside, were two bedrooms, each with its own bath. There was a bar, a living room complete with aforementioned piano, a huge kitchen, attached great room with high ceilings and a fireplace. It was perfect, as was the entire trip. It will probably go down as one of my all time favorites.

I see the vineyards every day, the early morning sun drifting through the trees to alight the thick-with-grapes vines. It’s my desktop image on my Mac. It brings me peace; it makes me want to open a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, perhaps a syrah, and sit back, relax, listen to some music and transport myself back in time, up to that house on the hill.


On my PC, my desktop is a huge picture of my beloved Maguire, lying on his rug in his sphinx position, his front paws crossed – he was always such a gentleman – his beautiful brown eyes alert and looking directly at me, his nose wet. I can almost feel how cold it always was. The sign of a healthy boy.

I think the images we choose for our desktops as well as for our screensavers say a lot about us. They define us. Computers come with a number of photos and background colors from which to choose. Wet pebbles in a stream, a beach at sunset, deep space, a distant landscape. The flat colors are turquoise, orange, red, blue, purple, the colors of the rainbow and beyond. I’ve never been interested in just having a boring desktop with a pre-determined photo. I look at this computer screen all day and into the night. I want it to be an extension of me. It is; both are.

When my Mac has been sitting idle for more than 10 minutes, the screen simply goes black. A touch to the track pad and the sundrenched vineyard reappears. On the PC, the screensaver is a 3-D high-chrome apparition of Microsoft Windows. A touch to that track pad, and my beautiful boy is back.

Screensavers began in the late 1980s because the tubes used to light computer monitors were vulnerable to damage when the same pattern was displayed in the same position for extended periods of time. These monitors were called CRT screens for cathode ray tubes. Some thought the image on the screen, whether it was words or graphics, would be burned into the monitor; others said that portions of the screen would gray out. In actuality the whole process was caused by phosphor compounds illuminating when hit by high-speed electrons. Manufacturers originally developed screensavers that made the screen totally black but in 1989, the “Magic Screensaver” was created. Developed by Bill Stewart and Ian Macdonald, it showed images and patterns interchanging and overlapping, changing constantly in order to keep the screen healthy.

My beautiful, beautiful boy as he appears on my PC desktop

The screensavers of today are even more complex, with animations and multiple settings for control. They’re created by programmers who often design and build them for the sheer joy of the creativity. I say, bravo.

But I’m still partial to the black screen of the Mac that eventually returns me to Napa. It’s a bit like time travel, which could be the best screensaver ever. I’ll have to talk to someone about that. We could all go back to Napa, to our house on the hill, and this time, we’d take Maguire, and his healthy wet nose, with us. What’s a wine house without a dog, right?

Hearing things that aren’t there and other random acts of weird

by Lorin Michel Monday, July 30, 2012 1:07 AM

Yesterday we found an HTC phone on the road just up Lindero, past Kanan and by the apartments. It had lost its red cover though both pieces were lying close by. We picked it up, tried to turn it on and were largely unsuccessful. So Kevin snapped the cover back into place and put it in his pocket. We thought maybe the battery was low and if we charged it when we got home, the screen would magically appear. We thought wrong.

We had a charger that fit and it took the charge but the screen seems to have completely lost its mind. We had good intentions of seeing if we could call one of the numbers, maybe even one that said “home,” and tell whomever answered that we had their phone. Again, wrong. So then we figured we’d just take it to a local Verizon store and see if they could extract any of the owner’s information to contact them. There’s really nothing else we can do short of putting up signs and I really reserve that for lost dogs and cats.

We left the phone in the kitchen on the counter. Big mistake.

At 7:30 this morning, just after I had fallen back to sleep and had entered the realm of a deep-don’t-wake-me-for-hours snooze, I was rudely awakened. I heard something strange, something mechanical, something irritating. At first, I thought: birds. But it was too regimented to be birds. Birds tend to be noisy, yes, but never noisy in a completely uniform, chirp every 2 seconds from soft to loud to pay-attention-to-me-now way. I got up. Kevin still appeared to be sleeping.

I walked to the window thinking maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was going to see a merry band of mariachi birds out there, serenading us. At 7:30. On a Sunday. I wasn’t entirely sure what I planned to do if I actually discovered mariachi birds, but I was for sure going to give them a stern talking to.

The sound wasn’t coming from outside. Nix the birds. I started toward the living room, made a left at the stairs and thought: could it be the car? I haven’t heard the new car alarm yet so I don’t know what it sounds like but then I thought: if that’s the car, it’s not very effective. Sure, it got me up. But it’s not going to deter anyone trying to steal a huge SUV. Just as I started to turn toward the garage, I stopped. The sound was coming from the kitchen.

I hear things a lot that aren’t there. So does Kevin. I hope this doesn’t make me eligible for a 5150 psych hold. If I said I hear voices, I realize it might. The fact is, sometimes, in the dead of night, when I wake up and I’m a little out of it, and I lay there in the dark, listening for dog-knows what, I could swear I hear the whispers of people out in the backyard, trying to break into Kevin’s studio.  [Bobbi’s on the phone to the police right now calling in that 5150. USC, here I come.]

I get up and pad softly to the window to look out, again not knowing just what act of heroics I’m going to pull in order to chase away said voices, but I do it anyway. There’s never anyone there, and that’s a good thing. I did this the other night and Kevin woke up and asked, reassuringly: “What the hell are you doing?” I told him; he told me it was probably the fan. He was probably right.

Phone on the Porsche in the garage

Both of us have been known to gather in the kitchen for lunch – if two people meeting for lunch can be called a gathering – and one or the other or both of us will stop mid-munch and cock an ear toward the door, asking: “Was that a phone?” Invariably, it was not.

It is not uncommon for Kevin to come in the house from his studio and ask me if the doorbell just rang. It did not.

I often hear, still and wistfully, Maguire as he shifts his weight and his considerable girth on the hardwood floor, the swoosh-slide-thud-clank-sigh as he turned over and lay back down. The clank is his tags. It is obviously and sadly no longer him, but I hear it all the time. I no longer get up from my desk to check on him, or the sound, because I know I’m hearing things. I wonder if I’ll hear him forever.

As you’ve probably deciphered, this morning’s phantom sound was the rescued street phone, the phone we so carefully placed back together in hopes of returning it to its owner. The phone who just yesterday was mangled and in pieces, waiting to be run over by an unfeeling car or worse, SUV. That phone repaid our kindness by setting off its alarm at 7:30 am. Because I was slightly discombobulated, I first tried to answer it. Then I tried to shut it off by hitting the buttons. Remember, there is no display so turning something off when you can’t see the “off” is nearly impossible and difficult at best. But it shut up and I went back to bed.

For 10 minutes.

Then it started again. I hit the power button. 10 minutes later it went off again. I was now wide-awake and did not want to be wide-awake alone. “Tell me you’re hearing that,” I said to my husband making sure to raise my voice above the cacophony emanating from the kitchen. He asked why I couldn’t turn it off. I told him I did. The next time it went off, he got up with it and decided to make coffee. Evidently, he also decided that the best place for the phone was the garage, on top of the Porsche. I know this because 10 minutes later, I was once again, hearing the phone. What I was not hearing was my husband silencing its incessant chirps. Once again, I got up and this time, the sound was indeed coming from the garage. I took the phone from the top of the car, and just kept touching the black screen until it went silent. It has not dared to speak since.

This is what I know. Turning the power off on a traumatized smartphone does not deter it. It is too smart for that. This is also what I know. Phones should not be smarter than people. I am proud to say that I triumphed on the sixth time the phone and I met for combat. Tomorrow, I will be ready.

Because in the realm of the weird, this phone seems to like living it out LOUD.

Lucky Penny: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 29, 2012 12:31 AM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here, doing my once in a while Saturday post. Saturdays are best for me cause the world is a little slower and I can just relax. I like Saturdays a lot. Hey Lorin likes Saturdays a lot, too. I guess everybody probably likes Saturdays a lot unless they have to work. Lucky and Penny definitely like Saturdays but they seem to like almost every day. They’re just about the happiest two people on four feet that I’ve ever seen.

Or maybe it’s eight feet. Four feet each. Yep. That’s eight.

These two walk by all the time, at least two times a day. I hear them coming and then I see them, like today when I was up in the gutter. I love the gutter, especially at this time of year. Lots of leaves from the two big trees in the front yard have floated into it making it very soft and cushy on my feet. Plus, because the trees are pretty big and still have a bunch of leaves, nobody can really see me. I’m like incognito; I like being incognito.

Usually there is a lady with Penny and Lucky. She wears this big floppy hat and big brown sunglasses so her whole face is pretty covered up. She looks like she’s going to have a puppy herself. When she walked by and Hey Lorin was getting ready to wash the car, they got to talking. They talked and talked and talked. I didn’t know people who didn’t know each other could talk that much or that long. But they were laughing and chatting and Hey Lorin was playing with the two dogs and they were rolling around in the grass just having a great time. The big brown one, he’s Lucky. I think I heard the lady who’s going to have a puppy any minute say that he was seven. Or maybe it was eight. He’s definitely not a puppy. He’s just big and kind of goofy. Like the minute anyone talks to him or reaches out to scratch behind his ears or anything, he tries to get as close as possible. It’s kind of funny cause he’s so big and he’s trying to get in Hey Lorin’s pocket.

Of course while this was happening, and I was up in my gutter, watching, we didn’t know their names yet. The hat lady said they were called Lucky and Penny and she pointed to each one as she said their names. That’s how we knew which one was which.

Me, in the gutter today. I have dirty paws.

Penny is littler and light brown. I think she’s what they call a mutt. It’s such a strange word. It doesn’t sound very nice but I know our big dog, the Knight, he was a mutt, too, and Hey Kevin and Hey Lorin talk all the time about how they really like mutts best. So Penny is a mutt and she’s pretty small. She usually has a lot of kind of long fur only today when they were out there, Penny looked like she got a fur-cut. She’s cute. She seems to be the one in charge of the two of them. Like when they were out there rolling around on the front yard while Hey Lorin was talking to big hat lady, Penny was always the one on top.

That got me to thinking about Penny’s and heads up. I heard something once that Penny’s were lucky, especially if they were heads up. Now, I’m not sure I know what that means but this Penny’s head was almost always up and she seems to have a pretty good family and stuff. She’s lucky and she has a Lucky. Maybe that’s what a Lucky Penny is supposed to be.

After a while, big hat lady started back on her walk and Hey Lorin started back to washing the car. Hey Kevin came out at one point and he asked her who she’d been talking to and she told him, and then she told him the dog’s names and he chuckled in that nice way he has and said “Lucky Penny. Ha!”

I watched them for a little while but then I had to go check out some new trees I just found the other day, a couple of houses over. I take the back wall, across Hey Sam’s roof, then down across the rose bushes always watching for those things that stick, turn left at the … well, you don’t care. But they’re really nice trees and I’m feeling lucky, too. Maybe if I keep my head up, I’ll find something great to bring home to Mrs. Squirrel.

The Friday exhale

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 28, 2012 1:53 AM

My husband tells me that he’s ready for my little experiment to be over; I think he’s right. So after today, I’ll get back to regular weird, obscure, hopefully sometimes profound, and even more rarely positively brilliant posts. I thank you, dear reader, for shuffling along with me this week. Please allow this final indulgence, and tomorrow – well, in the immortal words of Scarlet O’Hara – is another day.

So in last night’s dreamland, I was in a helicopter flying over Las Vegas, getting ever closer to the water so that I could see the boats, some of which were dangerously close to each other. I was looking for dolphins I think but finding none, I turned my attention instead to the buildings that seemed abnormally small but maybe that’s just because I was so very high. A crowd had gathered and as soon as I reached out toward them, the entire scene appeared to dissipate, like fog lifting quickly to reveal a blue sky.

I wondered if it was because it was Friday, that the week and all that went into it, with work, files, meetings, clients, getting my hair colored, and more was represented by the boats mostly going in the same direction, since each day is essentially moving toward its logical conclusion and to the week’s end.

The dream was bizarre for the fact that it didn’t seem to have any people in it, other than a faceless crowd. I couldn’t see anyone on the boats, couldn’t make out anyone on the ground. Perhaps my dreams are getting lazy; perhaps I’m just tired. I’ll go with the latter.

After a night without a great deal of sleep, I’m glad to exhale on this Friday, to have a bit of down time coming with the promise of tomorrow. A day when I can do all kinds of things that don’t require a lot of brain power. Physical versus mental things. Stuff around the house things like cleaning, maybe even cleaning out a closet. Washing a car or two. Perhaps a bit of laundry. I’ve come to realize that I cherish my Saturdays simply because they’re so easy, so physical. So visceral. The only true thinking I’ll have to do is to come up with tomorrow’s blog post but I consider working on my posts to be fun and fulfilling; real.

On this Friday, as I sit here in my office, listening to the easy sounds of the afternoon, I am struck, as I often am by how easily the days fly by. Just yesterday it was Monday. I look back at the past five days and I take stock of what was accomplished and what still has a place on the to-do list. For having worked steadily, I’m sorry to say there is more still in place than has been crossed off, but that’s OK. Much of what I do is long term and steady. Like the tortoise in the infamous race with the hare, I know I will one day cross the finish line on each. A deliberate focus and the end-goal is what makes it happen.

Outside the wind chimes are gently touching, sending soft songs into the late afternoon air. On my computer screen, in the lower right corner, the puppy cam is still on. I’ve had it on all week. It serves as a reminder of all that is good and innocent and wondrous, still. In a world constantly entwined in brawls and nastiness, there is nothing more simple and simply profound than six golden retriever puppies romping. Perhaps only six golden retriever puppies sleeping in a pile. It is my definition of life itself.

I’ve always felt this way about puppies, at least as long as I can remember. I think puppies and dogs remind us all of what we should strive to be. Maguire used to do that for me. Every time I would descend the stairs from my office and he’d be laying there, looking up at me, I would remember: this is life. We sleep, we eat, we play, occasionally we get to go for a walk. I learned much from my vintage puppy. His ability to exist in the moment is lesson 873 of the many lessons he taught in his 15 years.

The six puppies are being raised by the Warrior Canine Connection, a group that teaches members of the military suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder how to train service dogs in order to be partnered with veterans with mobility impairments. They’re based in Brookville, Maryland, where these five little blonde girls and one little blonde boy were born on June 24 and are quickly growing. The group’s tagline is ‘serving humankind for 30,000 years….’ a reference to how long humans have relied on dogs.

There’s longevity there, peace. There’s also truth and again, wonder. Watching the puppies I can feel any stress dissipate, and feel the warm sunshine filtering through a blue sky. It’s Friday. There are puppies. Let’s live it out loud.

The Tuesday episode

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 24, 2012 11:35 PM

In today’s installment of Lorin’s weird dreams, I was in my old college Toyota, having chosen that over my mother’s much sleeker Supra and I was driving one of my clients and her little girl to the beach. My sister was also with us but she was about 5. It was raining like hell, I couldn’t see but I was driving straight ahead as if I could. My brother was there, too, at the front of the car, telling me which way to go – to the right! – like he was on the bow of a boat – starboard! – so as not to hit anything or go off the road. But I hit something anyway and then I had to get another car and the beach was too crowded anyway.

To which I say, huh?

The human mind is an amazing place to visit but I’m not sure I’d want to live there.

On this Tuesday, I have spent some time watching a service-puppy-cam. I do this sometimes simply for the smile value. It’s addictive, watching puppies frolic and eat and sleep and play. There are six particular puppies on this one live cam, and one mother, all golden retrievers. The puppies are in training to become service dogs. They evidently start this training at a very early age, conditioning them to certain things. I don’t know what all was done, but I watched the woman I’m assuming is Holly since the cam’s name is Holly’s Half Dozen as she lifted each up onto a table, removed their collars, maybe trimmed their nails, fed them something off her fingers and made sure they stood up. There was no sound on the cam; I wish there was. I would like to have heard the little puppy yips and yuks as they pounced and chewed and acted all kinds of puppy-tough. I’ve had the cam minimized, down in the lower right of my screen, most of the day.

At one point I had first Bobbi and then Kevin completely hooked. Kevin was even doing a running commentary. Hey, guys. Watch this. Hey. Where’s mom? Hey, did you see what’s happening over here?

A still from Tuesday's puppy-cam episode

Watching these little balls of fluff on puppy TV made me remember my own ball of fluff when he was just 8 weeks old. So much energy, bounding around the house, bouncing instead of running, eating his food in mid-air as we were pouring it into his bowl, terrified to go too far on a walk, even on his leash. We kennel-trained Maguire, and each night, after he had been fed and taken outside for a small puppy walk, we’d let him run around the house. Each night, that meant a gradual emptying of his kennel. His house, we called it. It was his den, his sanctuary. There was a blanket, his toys. And one by one, each thing inside would be carried outside and deposited in a nice little Maguire pile on the rug in the dining room. Then the playing would commence.

When we first got our beloved boy, we still lived in a two-story town house with a sunken living room. There were two steps down and he handled those well. The stairs up to the second floor were another tail all together. They were split, with three up to a small landing, then a 90º turn to the left where the majority of the steps loomed and led to another landing. Another sharp 90º turn to the left, up two and you were in the hallway that separated the two bedrooms. He could get up the first three, make the turn and then get up one. Then he’d stand there with his front paws up on the next step, rear legs on the first step, and cry that wonderful little puppy cry that said “it’s too scary; I can’t do it.” One of us would pick him up, assuring him that everything was just fine. He tried and tried.

One night, after I’d gotten home and taken him out, he was tearing around the dining room with his blue bone in his mouth. I dashed upstairs to get something and as I was up there, the phone rang. I was in the master bedroom; I grabbed it. It was Kevin. We talked for only a minute or two but as I was standing in the bedroom, suddenly this little black ball of fur popped around the corner. He had made it up all the stairs. He raced down the hall toward me, little legs moving as fast as he could make them, his ears flopping in his created breeze, tongue hanging just to one side of his mouth; a big grin on his face. He was so proud. He had braved the mountain to get to mom and he had conquered.

I’ll never forget that moment. Even now, as I type the story, I’m smiling through my tears. Dog, he was cute.

On the web cam, mom has come in. She’s eating as the puppies feed. She looks sad, in that beautiful way that dogs do; I suspect she’s over this motherhood thing. They’re getting too big; she’s tired.

There are seven dogs on this show, all of them that sweet honey color, all of them well-cared for; loved. It’s crowded like the beach in my dream but the weather is fine. It’s naptime now. One just tipped over his brother, another stood in the empty food bowl. Another one is curled on what I believe is the equivalent of the puppy litter box. Mom is lying in the middle of them all, surveying her pups. Now her head, too, goes down. Soon the feet twitch; the dreams have begun.

Another episode comes to an end. Roll credits.

Crossing over into the downside

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, July 18, 2012 11:28 PM

I have a philosophy. I know; I seem to have a lot of philosophies. I think some of them are even almost if not entirely valid. Plus, in my selfish way, I figure that it's my blog and I'll philosophize if I want to, which is, incidentally, a derivative of it being my party and crying, updated for the 21st century.

Where was I? Oh. Philosophizing. Again. Here's my latest: at noon on Wednesday, the week officially flips toward the weekend. In the morning, it's still early in the week, the weekend is still a very long way off. But miraculously it crosses over and the weekend starts to come into view. I've dubbed this "crossing over into the downside." Clever, don't you think?

This amazing thought was actually verbalized today on our walk, under a very strange sky, dirty cotton clouds stretched thin, the sunlight trying desperately to pierce through. It was humid but the breeze was cool. It felt almost as if it might rain but it didn't and it won't. Still, the threat was nice. We were on our way up one of the nasty little hills here in the 'hood, one we affectionately call lil' EBH (for energizer bunny hill because it keeps going and going and going). Kevin was being uncharacteristically quiet, which didn't keep me from rambling on about my morning, my phone call with my sister, what was coming up for the afternoon. I was getting mostly grunts and one-word responses.

"Did you leave your conversationality on the floor of the salon last night?" I asked. He finally got a haircut yesterday. His hair was so long he was starting to need barrettes and banana clips.


"Are you having a bad day?"


Hmmmm. "What time is it?"

"1 o'clock." He speaks!

"It's official, then. We've crossed over into the downside." Coincidentally we were also crossing over the crest of the hill and were finally starting on the downside of lil’ EBH. The analogy was not lost. My husband looked at me out of the corner of his eye. We used to call it the side-eye when Maguire would do it. I knew that meant "what are you talking about because if it's this hill, you're kind of stating the obvious." We have a nice short-hand, my husband and I.

"We're more than half way through the week."

Philosophy is defined as love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral discipline. It's also defined as the investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods. In other words I see therefore I know what I see when I see it so there.

Midway through the week is Wednesday at noon. Once one has gotten past 12, the slide toward the weekend begins. The downside. In this case downside is a good thing. It represents the upside of working hard and steady and strong. It elevates what was groundward; it gives rise to even greater optimism and cause for celebration. I could almost see us skipping down lil’ EBH, hand in hand, shouting “the weekend is coming! the weekend is coming!”

Luckily, we don’t skip. Which is a whole other philosophical discussion to have at another time in another post. For now, I leave you with a humid, cloudy Wednesday afternoon and two of the OPs most intrepid residents, sliding – but definitely not skipping – toward Fritini.

Grunt, sayeth the husband-unit. But then, just for a minute, I’m pretty sure I saw him skip.

My husband loves to make furniture and he's good at it

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 15, 2012 10:43 PM

My husband knows things, things no one else on my planet knows and I am forever amazed to find out. Things like if you have a two story house and the upstairs doesn’t get as cool as it should, it might be because of where the AC vents are located vis-à-vis the cold air intake. I didn’t even know what a cold air intake was until we got together. And that if you want to push more cool air to the upstairs, close all of the vents downstairs.


He knows how to fix sprinkler heads and doesn’t need the gardener to do it for him. He has more tools than Home Depot. He diagnosed and fixed a problem with Justin’s car yesterday and it wasn’t the first time. All it needed was a relay, which, thankfully, Pep Boys had in stock. $48 later, the car was back to its optimum running condition. If I was just me, I would have put the car in the shop and $200 plus later, I would have had a new relay installed with labor attached.

He just knows stuff that most of us mere mortals don’t. Like how to rewire a light switch without getting electrocuted or put recessed lighting in the kitchen to replace the ugly fluorescent lights. I realize there are professionals who do this stuff (see previous paragraph: Justin’s car), but to just be a regular guy who can essentially fix anything is astonishing to me. It’s also very handy around the house. When I have a to-do list, he can do just about everything on it without breaking a sweat.

Several years ago, he designed and built his own studio. It sits in the corner of the back of our little piece of property here in the OP, and serves as his at-home place of work. He also has an office in the Valley for meetings and such, but his studio is his haven. The place he spends up to 14 hours each day. It has a foundation, is fully insulated, electrified, has wi-fi and cable, a ceiling fan and is just a fabulous space. Most people, when they’re in the back for the first time, don’t even see it. That’s the genius of his design. It’s built to become part of the back yard, not to exist in spite of it.

When we first moved into this house in 1997, he designed and built an entertainment center that would hold what was then one of the big TVs. We still have it; a 36” JVC tube-type television. It works just fine and we don’t watch that much television. It fits in the space and that’s what we care about. The center also holds all of the stereo equipment including a working turntable, all of our CDs and DVDs (and a few VHS tapes I couldn’t bear to part with like Beauty and the Beast, Gone with the Wind and Galaxy Quest). It’s made of curly maple, and still gets compliments for its modern lines and unobtrusive nature.

Justin’s room, which has now become the guest room, is not large. In fact, the entire house is not large but it’s perfect for us. Still, the two rooms upstairs, one of which is my loft office, are relatively small. About 11 X 10 ish. In order to give Justin more floor space, Kevin designed and built a queen-size loft bed with a circular stair at one end that the kid slept in throughout high school. It was fabulous. We dismantled it once he moved out, got rid of the stairs and shortened the posts to make a shorter bed. It’s still fabulous, only not as tall.

When Maguire was getting older and we needed to raise his food and water bowls off the floor, Kevin designed and welded together a steel tray that was the perfect height for our boy.

In the master bedroom, I long hated our furniture. Finally, with the exception of the wrought iron sleigh bed frame that holds our California king, I got rid of everything else: the two bedside tables/night stands, the dresser and the chest of drawers. We replaced the bedside tables with something I found at Pottery Barn. But a piece of furniture to sit against the wall opposite the bed to hold t-shirts, shorts and incidentals below and the flat screen TV on top eluded us. We searched; we did not find. So Kevin pulled out his sketchpad and began to draw. We wanted something not big. Nothing that would overpower the room (see two paragraphs above: small house) but that would do exactly what we needed and maybe even a little more. Like hold some books.

As a writer and a book lover, I have piles of books everywhere. The coffee table in the living room has two stacks, artfully arranged of course. Next to the music cabinet, on the floor, I have a number of books lined up; another stack appears in front of it. The bedroom has long been home to numerous piles as has my office. And my office has bookshelves, though those shelves were long ago filled. So I thought it would be nice if we also had a piece of furniture with a shelf or two that could house some books.

We’ve been building it for a while. I say “we” because Kevin designs, we decide on the type of wood together (in this case, birch), then he cuts all of the pieces and assembles. Once it’s together, I stain and polyurethane. The basic shell of the piece was completed months ago and has been in place in the bedroom since. We finished the doors just a couple of weeks ago and hung those. Today, we put on the hardware. We’re officially done.

I know how lucky I am to have someone who not only knows how to do all of this stuff, but also enjoys it. I suspect if he could do just about anything in the world, he’d make furniture. It’s a dying art, unfortunately, but he’s so good at it. And because he is, we have these wonderful one-of-a-kind pieces in our house. Timeless, functional and beautiful.

So tonight I celebrate my honey, who knows how to work a honey-do list like no one I’ve ever met. Now, Kev – about the front suspension on the Porsche… 

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live out loud

The good and the wonder of lazy

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 15, 2012 1:28 AM

Last night at Fritini, amongst our many topics of discussion, was one about lazy. The now-licensed therapist (oh, how I love typing that) otherwise known as Bobbi, said something along the lines of not believing that people are born lazy but that it is instead a learned behavior. It got me thinking. Can people be born lazy?

I know many people who I would classify as lazy, either physically, intellectually and sometimes both, and I've often wondered about the why. I don't mean lazy as in the occasional not do much on a Saturday afternoon or even for the entire weekend. I mean not having any desire to do anything ever. Not seeking to better yourself either by looking for another job or joining a networking group or losing weight or exercising or reading a book or a newspaper. Not seeking to find out about the world you live in. There is so much information at our fingertips courtesy of the almighty intertubes, how can someone not want to take advantage of that? And yet I know people who don't have a computer and don't get the newspaper. They just watch TV. It's something that escapes me but I also tend toward the typical Type-A personality. A bit too driven, a little too ambitious. Though I do know how to relax. I just don't do nothing - I don't do lazy – well, at least not for long.

Lazy (also called indolence) is defined as a disinclination to activity or exertion despite having the ability to do so. It is often used as a pejorative, along with other illustrious terms like couch potato, slacker, and bludger.

Despite Sigmund Freud's meanderings on the pleasure principle, Leonard Carmichael notes that "laziness is not a word that appears in the table of contents of most technical books on psychology... It is a guilty secret of modern psychology that more is understood about the motivation of thirsty rats and hungry pecking pigeons as they press levers or hit targets than is known about the way in which poets make themselves write poems or scientists force themselves into the laboratory when the good golfing days of spring arrive." To which I say, huh? A 1931 survey found that high school students were more likely to attribute their failing performance to laziness, while teachers ranked "lack of ability" as the major cause, with laziness coming in second.

It is common for animals (even hummingbirds that have high energy) to forage for food until satiated, and then spend most of their time doing nothing, or at least nothing in particular. Maguire excelled at this. On the other hand, some animals, such as pigeons and rats, seem to be forever searching for food rather than finding, eating and then napping. I suppose that's why they're rats and pigeons.

From 1909 to 1915, the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease sought to eradicate hookworm infestation from 11 southern US states. Hookworms were popularly known as "the germ of laziness" because they produced listlessness and weakness in the people they infested. Hookworms infested 40 percent of southerners and were identified in the North as the cause of the South's alleged backwardness.

There are actually articles about overcoming laziness. They even list multiple steps that can be taken, things like strengthening your motivation through affirmations and visualization and thinking about the benefits of not being lazy as well as the consequences of continuing in laziness. But this seems to me to both miss the point entirely and to thoroughly demonstrate the entire issue of lazy. If one was capable or even wanted to not be lazy and sought to do something about it, one wouldn't be lazy in the first place. Perhaps just fearful. And thinking about wanting to do something isn't the same as actually doing something. Thinking but not doing is nearly the definition of lazy. It is a state of passivity and of letting things stay as they are.

Which of course doesn't address whether people are born lazy or learn to be that way. I actually think it's a little of both. I've known people born into the same family, given the same opportunities for college and bettering themselves. Some excel, others don't. That leads me to believe that laziness is something that is there from the beginning, or at least the proclivity for laziness is there. Then circumstances help cement the slothiness. I also believe that a lot of laziness comes from fear, and fear can be related to timidity which can be just a person's personality, something you are born with.

It's all very complicated but so interesting. It should be noted that in addition to me being mostly a Type-A personality, I am also writing this post ... from bed. It's just after noon, and though I've been up for hours, even cleaned up the kitchen, made a pot of coffee and got the newspaper before coming back to stretch out with my trustee iPad, I remain, in bed. On a Saturday afternoon. And I'm not sick.

Since I know my mother will be appalled to read those last lines, I'm going to go with my laziness being a learned behavior. Today, I'm just fine with that. In fact, I'm celebrating it, along with the cool air of the fan as it blows across my feet at the end of the bed.

The reality of soul mates

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 1, 2012 10:48 PM

A long time ago I read a book by Richard Bach titled The Bridge Across Forever: A love story. It was published in 1984, the year I graduated from college, and I was still a bit of a gooey romantic at that point. I read the book – about hope and love – on a trip to Maui several years later with first husband, Tim. Even then I wasn’t naïve enough to think that the wonder of the book would in any way translate to that relationship. We were already in a death spiral.

The book explores the meaning of fate and soul mates. It’s a bit of a fairy tale, albeit a modern day telling, based on the author’s relationship with the actress Leslie Parrish. Bach described it as a story about a knight who was dying and the princess who saved his life. Ultimately, it’s a riveting love affair between two fully human beings, a real life man and woman who are willing to explore time travel and other dimensions as they struggle with intimacy, commitment, smothering and whose turn it is to cook. When I read it, it gave me hope that true love and commitment were sustainable, even as my relationship was faltering. The story illuminated the idea of life’s soaring possibilities, of the perfect entwinement of two souls. Soul mates. It was a remarkable book, one I should probably read again just because I remember so little about it even though I remember the feeling it engendered.


Bach divorced the woman he wrote the book about after 22 years of marriage. Still, it made me wonder about the idea of soul mates, and if there is truly such a thing, or if we all just wish for it so badly that we make it so.

In ancient Greece, Plato had the playwright Aristophanes present a story of soul mates in a dialogue called The Symposium. The tale was simple: human beings originally had four arms, four legs and one head with two faces. Zeus, the father of all gods, feared the power of these humans and so he split them in half, separating them seemingly forever. These two halves were destined to spend their lives searching for the other half in order to find completion. Notice, however, there was no mention of their souls.

In theosophy, the Greek system of esoteric philosophy, God created androgynous souls, equally male and female and neither of which. These souls spent many lifetimes searching for their corresponding halves, that once found, would dramatically fuse back together and return to God or heaven or wherever they wanted to reside. Today soul mate usually refers to a romantic partner, one with whom we form an exclusive and lifelong bond.

Soul mates find each other and become kindred spirits. Sometimes it’s a romantic partnership, sometimes it’s a best friend. Soul mates are all about forming significant, lasting, deeply emotional relationships that teach you something about yourself. According to some, these relationships don’t even have to be long-term; they don’t have to have been positive in nature. But as long as these relationships teach us about ourselves, about how we can be better people, then we have made a soul connection.


I don’t entirely buy that description. I agree that many people come into our lives at various times to teach us things we need to know. And while the knowledge may be long-lasting, maybe even permanent, the relationship does not qualify as a soul relationship. By that definition, nearly everybody that teaches you something is a soul mate and I believe that cheapens and belittles the term. To me, a soul relationship is one that I can relate to at the deepest levels. Someone who has changed my life and is continuing to change my life.  My first husband was not a soul mate; my second husband is. We connect on every level. I am a better person because of him. I cannot say this of the husband before. I was a worse person because of him, and though I learned things about myself and about love in that relationship, it was not good. It was not a soul connection.

Kevin and I are those two halves spoken of somewhat in jest by Aristophanes. We are the two souls who needed to find one another to become one. We’re still our own people with our own minds, our own eccentricities, our own beliefs, but we’re better together than apart. He’s the laughter to my joke, the half ‘n half in my coffee, the cabernet to my sauvignon.

I have soul mates in my closest friends as well. People who have been in my life for nearly as long as I can remember; others who were in it once and have come roaring back. I am better because of these people. I learn things, I appreciate the teachings, the fun and the not-so-fun. We have soul connections. They make me feel. They are the chips to my dip.

I have these connections with members of my family, specifically my sister. We have very different lives, but she makes me a better person because she is a better person than I. I am better with her in my life. She is the calm to my storm.

My beloved Maguire, too, was a soul mate. Souls, if you believe in the idea of wandering the earth for lifetimes searching for the one who completes you, can come in many sizes, many forms. Maguire enriched my life in ways that are beyond description. He was the bark to my bite, the cheese to my cracker.  Which naturally leads to what happens when a soul mate passes on.

Connecting forever

According to Richard Bach, the connection remains as love transcends the concepts of physicality and time. It is about a truth, about bright hopes, beautiful dreams and magical possibilities. It is about building a bridge across forever. About living it out loud.

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