As the crow flies: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 1, 2012 1:35 AM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here. We've been having some issues with birds lately. Well, maybe not birds. Birds aren't so bad. When I was just a pup I was really good friends with a little tufted dude. I think his name was Birt and we used to play in the trees. He'd sort of flit from one branch to the next while I scrambled around the trunk. We used to have a really good game of tag. His family flew south one winter- I think that means Mexico. Or maybe it was San Diego. They never came back.

We still have nice birds but we have a whole bunch of crows and I really don't like crows. In fact, I don't think I've ever met a crow that I liked. They're big and loud and think they own the trees. Plus they're mean. They’ve chased me, which is bad enough, but the other day, Mrs. Squirrel was on her way to the market, otherwise known as the next street over, looking for some dates, and they started after her. Totally uncool. Lately they've been squawking up a storm. I heard Hey Kevin yell at them two days ago with an equally loud Hey! So I guess they're Hey Birds.

Hey Kevin doesn't like Hey Birds. At. All.

Even Hey Lorin doesn't much like crows and she's usually much more patient with all things in my little kingdom. But today, I was sitting on Hey Kevin's roof, in a square of shade. Those crows were squawking something fierce. I tried barking at them but it didn't work. So I put my paws in my ears. They sounded like they were fighting, just yelling back and forth. I have no idea why they seemed to be so mad. I mean, it was a beautiful day. And there’s lots of stuff to eat, it being summer and all. All of the fruit trees and stuff are there for the swooping. Hey Kevin closed his windows; he was on that phone thing. I guess he was having trouble hearing. From inside the house I heard this rumble and then a sharp yell: HEY! Out comes Hey Lorin. I guess they were even bothering her and she was in the house! She sort of stormed across the patio toward where that Kobe dog lives, waved her arms like some sort of nut - I like nuts - and those crows flew up and away, squawking the whole time.

I took my paws out of my ears and listened to nothing. There was a little chirp somewhere and I thought about Birt. Cars went by, kids laughed and screeched. Dogs barked. These were all sounds I like.

I don't really understand the need for crows. They're not very nice and they're not very pretty, and they're very very very noisy. Hey Kevin feels the same way. He came out of his house after the latest incident. I scampered down to the edge of his studio. Hey Kevin looked up and nodded at me, like Hey Squire. I nodded back. Hey Kevin.

Just then a crow landed on top of the tree above the studio. We both looked up and growled. Then Hey Kevin started to laugh and then I started to chuckle a little and pretty soon we were both having a great time. The crow flew off, like he was mad that he hadn't made us mad again. Or maybe it was because he didn't get the joke. I didn’t really get the joke either but I’m sure it was funny.  

Hey Kevin and I do not like crows. Not one bit. And we sort of made a silent pact to do whatever we could to chase them away from our yard. It was a really cool bonding moment.

The only thing that would have made it better was if the big dog could have joined us. We would've been like the three musketeers. Hey Kevin standing on the patio, the big dog patrolling the yard, and me, keeping peace in the trees. All of us keeping the neighborhood safe from crows.

I really miss that guy.

The bark of the dogs

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 27, 2012 12:31 AM

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m in the kitchen, standing at the table (it’s a pub table so it’s tall), listening to the sounds of the OP as they filter through the open bay window. The last shards of sunlight are highlighting the tops of the trees; the trunks are already in shadow. Across the street, Carter, the wheaton terrier, is outside in the backyard and she seems decidedly unhappy about it. She’s been barking steadily for at least 45 minutes. It’s not an obnoxious bark. It’s actually rather muffled, as if she’s ruffing through a pillow, the original bark silencer. There are two cars in the driveway at her house so I imagine someone is home but whoever that someone is evidently is not hearing what she has to say.

I believe that when dogs bark they are communicating. They’re not just barking because they can, any more than most people talk only because they can. Dogs bark to announce someone’s or something’s arrival, whether invited or not. They bark when they hear something they can’t see. They bark when they see things they can’t hear. They speak when we tell them and then we sometimes get mad when they do. I would think a great number of them get confused on a fairly regular basis.

Our neighbor Kobe, the terrier terror one wall over, barks all the time. It’s as if he barks to hear himself bark, though I’m smart enough to know that’s not the case. He barks for three reasons: he doesn’t know not to, because he can, and because he can’t see everything that he hears beyond the great wall of Kobe land. Kevin gets mad at him sometimes and to be truthful, I’ve been known to mutter “Kobe: Shut the f*&^ up” a time or two, but he’s not a bad dog. He’s just never been properly socialized. And he’s outside quite often, without any attention. He hears things; he barks. When he hears us on the patio, grilling, we get bombarded with RUFF, RUFF RURURURURURU!

The size of the dog is directly proportional to the size of the bark. Small dogs yip and screech, and are generally aggressive. Medium dogs have slightly more depth to their growl and ruff. Large dogs rumble with authority and huge dogs cause earthquakes. They don’t bark very often since they don’t really need to. The sheer size of them is enough to communicate nearly anything they might need to say.

Like Go. Away. Or Need. Cookie. NOW.

When we were walking the other day, up a fairly steep hill, we were both surprised by two huge barks coming at us from the wall above. We looked up, hearts pounding. Two Great Danes stared down at us. They barked in order to let us know they were watching us. They weren’t necessarily concerned, but they were there and needed us to know that.

The aforementioned Kobe the terrible has been known to bark as early as 5:30 am and as late as 1 am giving us a four and a half hour window of silence. Down the street and on the corner there’s a house with five small dogs. When we walk by on the sidewalk, they spew out tiny conniptions. We usually just look and shake our heads.

Maguire was never much of a barker. He was known to be more the strong silent type. He would bark three times, pause, and if it was needed again, like if we hadn’t yet attended to his needs, he’d bark three more times. When we would go for our mid-day walks, he would wait in the kitchen window. Somehow he could see us, even when he was older, as we were on our way back and he would bark. Ruff, ruff. (slight pause) Ruff. He was telling us he saw us and was ready for us to be home.

When he would go out into the backyard for a cookie or just to go on tour, he would let us know when he was ready to come back in with one sharp bark at the door. Then he’d wait and stare. If we didn’t come running immediately, he’d bark again, just once. If he was still forced to wait – the unimaginable horror – he would bark twice, nearly indignant. As soon as the door slid open and he bounded inside, he was fine.

Barking actually expresses the different emotions the dog is feeling. Loneliness, fear, suspicion, stress and pleasure. Playful barks are often short and sharp. Distressed barks are often high pitched and repetitive (see: Terror, Kobe). The pitch actually gets higher as the dog becomes more and more distressed. A dog left home alone might bark like this (see: Muffled, Carter). Some dogs, like hounds, bark when they’re chasing something. For some reason, this type of barking is often called singing because it’s more of a howl, longer and with more tone.

K9 Magazine has translated barks so that we know what our canine companions are telling us. For instance:

  • Continuous, rapid barking means “call the pack. There’s a problem!”
  • Strings of three or four usually translate to “there may be an issue. You should check it out.”
  • Prolonged barking is asking the question “is there anybody out there?”
  • One sharp short bark is a greeting. Or it could be “stop that; I’m warning you.”

As I listen to the sounds of the dogs in the ‘hood, I miss my boy, naturally, but it also makes me smile. Because I love wondering and imagining whatever it is they all have to say.

Something as simple as furniture

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 24, 2012 1:21 AM

Every day I find something to celebrate. Some days, it’s easy. Something funny happens and it just screams blog post. Some days, it’s more difficult. I don’t like to be repetitive, like writing about the weather all the time, even though most days it is glorious. Even when it’s raining it’s worth celebrating. Few places in the country, if not the world, have the phenomenal weather that we have here in Southern California, especially our little ‘burb in Southern California. We’re out of the Valley so we’re cooler; we’re near the ocean so we’re cooler still. While the rest of the Southland can be baking in 100+ temperatures, we’re usually pretty steady in the high 80s, and at night the temp drops to something infinitely more manageable. Like 68. Nearly always good sleeping weather. We rarely need to use our air conditioner. And we have no bugs.

But I’m not celebrating the weather today, even though it was glorious.

I used to celebrate my beautiful bear, his supreme highness, the vintage puppy known as Maguire Michel. He was easy to celebrate, and while the focus may have been on him, the posts were usually about something he had done. Something funny; something adorable. Something endearing. Something that just made me want to hug and kiss and squeeze on him, which I did on a regular basis. He didn’t seem to mind. Often times, I got a kiss in return. Sometimes even a hug. Maguire was a hugger from the day we brought him home, a head-burier. He’d get up close and bury his head into my neck, or Kevin’s neck or Justin’s or Roy’s or whoever’s neck was available. That was how he hugged. Whenever someone came to the house, whether to visit or simply to drop off a package, he knew they were only here to see him, and he greeted them with a wagging tail before loping off to the bedroom to retrieve one of his toys which he’d bring back and drop in front of whoever was here. It was his way of socializing.

But I can only celebrate my memories of Maguire now. As my new guest blogger, Squire Squirrel, often says: “I really miss that guy.”

I’ve celebrated Fritini and olives, the grocery store and road trips. I’ve celebrated Tucson and Santa Barbara and Paso Robles and Chicago and New Hampshire. I’ve celebrated my husband and my kid, my friends and family both near and far, and will continue to do so. These are the people who fill my life and make it forever joyous; who make it easy to live it out loud every day.

Naturally I’ve celebrated wine because, as I often joke, I’m a wino, but only in the best sense of the word. Wino first appeared in the English language in 1915, as the combination of wine and the suffix ‘o,’ like bucko (which first appeared in 1833) and kiddo (1896). Adding an ‘o’ is somehow related to Spanish or Italian words that often end in o, and can convert some of our words into faux Spanish. Think no problemo, voiced to perfectly by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator in T2.  It is actually something that is applied to nouns and is used to create a diminutive title or even a nickname. Of course, it may also be French. Or German.

Incidentally, the dictionary defines a wino as an indigent wine-drinking alcoholic. I beg to differ. I’m rarely indigent, and I’m not an alcoholic. I am often wine-drinking, though, hence my description as the best sense of the word. Plus my wine is rarely, if ever, in a paper bag. Perhaps only when I’ve purchased something in a wine store and they’ve been kind enough to slip the bottle into one of their long, snug brown bags and twisted the top closed around the neck.

I’ve celebrated tires and flip flops and both of our cars and the motorcycle. I don’t know that I’ve celebrated my house. Perhaps on an upcoming post.

The point is, finding something to celebrate is easy. I remember when I first started this blog, nearly a year and a half ago. People thought it was a great idea, especially given how bad so much of the news can be on a daily basis. They asked me how often I thought I’d be able to post. I confidently said every day. I had more than one person ask me how I could possibly find something to write about every day. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t.

Even when I celebrate something as innocuous as finishing the doors on the new piece of furniture we’re building for the bedroom. Kevin designed the piece. The body has long been done; it’s already in the bedroom, holding our t-shirts, socks and underwear. There are shelves on the top for books. While the shirts, socks and other wears have been exposed, once we finish the doors, and secure them, everything will be nicely hidden, save the books, and we’ll have a lovely credenza that can ultimately be used in an office when we move into our new house. The doors were stained last weekend; today we broke out the new can of clear satin polyurethane. Kevin rigged up the doors so we could hang them in the garage, putting one complete coat all the way around. They’re hanging there now, in front of the Range Rover, dry and ready for the second coat that will be applied tomorrow. By next week, we’ll be styling.

From one side of the country to the other, one city to another, with friends or not, with family or simply missing them, with Maguire or sadly without; with wine or martinis; with jazz or rock; in shorts or jeans; with something thought-provoking or something silly, I’m celebrating daily. I still believe that life is truly special, a place in which to find joy and awe. And that every single day, we can all live it out loud.  

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live out loud

Sunday mornings on the patio

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 18, 2012 1:13 AM

This father's day started with a text message from one of Kevin's programmers, wishing him a nice day. It was 9 am. It had actually started for us as early as midnight since we were still up, just finishing a movie. Normally we have trouble staying up past 11, but we were engrossed in The Help, a movie I had long wanted to see having read the book. Kevin had no desire, but he thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that we talked about it afterward and then started looking up people who had been in it. We were surprised to find, for instance, that Cicely Tyson was only 78. We had another glass of wine, surfed around a bit, and then finally went to bed around 1.

This morning was warm and lovely, typical of June in Southern California. We took our cantaloupe and watermelon, our respective cups of coffee and the newspaper and settled at the table under the patio cover. The sun was still low in the sky though it was climbing steadily. It spit streams of itself through the trees and down through the slats in the cover. Because it was still early, there wasn't yet a breeze. Birds, perhaps the same ones from the other unfortunately early morning, were hopping through the grass and along the dirt near the wall. A hummingbird buzzed near the azaleas. In the corner, the Squire sat observing as he munched on something I couldn't see.

From inside the house, music played, an ambient blend of new age Celtic, perfect for a Sunday morning. That was the only sound. There were no children screaming, no basketballs dribbling, no motorcycle roars. At 10, the bells from nearby St. Max's catholic church chimed. It was actually lovely in the stillness, hopeful yet haunting. The newspaper fluttered, just the edge, as the breeze kicked up a notch. Slowly, the air began to fill with the normal sounds of the day. Cars, dogs, the squeals of children, the shouts of teens. A car went by and another. A sleepy Sunday morning was turning into a lazy Sunday filled with dads and kids and families.

We sat on the patio a while longer. It was strange to be just us. Justin hasn’t been here for Father’s Day in years though we always hear from him. But this was the first without Maguire. He always picked out the best cards, both for Father’s and Mother’s day. It was lonelier. Quieter. A little sad. But it made us remember how special he was, what a good furry son he had been for 15 years.

Kevin went to get us some more coffee and I thought about my own father, Terry, who’s been gone for ten years now. I still don’t always know how to live in a world where my dad doesn’t, but I’m learning. I miss calling him; I miss his voice.

Kevin’s dad, Tom, has been gone even longer. His dad died in early 1993. Still on Father’s Day I don’t think it’s possible to not think of your dad, regardless of how long he’s been gone. It’s impossible not to wonder how different life might be if he was still around. The different could be good or bad. It might not be different at all, just more of the more or more of the less. It’s an odd sensation when your parents are gone. They’re still your parents, of course, but parents provide advice, solicited and not, memories, and love. When dads die, that dies with him.

I thought of my brother-in-law, John, father to my niece and nephew, but also without his own dad who died just a couple of years ago, around Thanksgiving if I remember.

I thought of Bobbi who’s dad, Bill, is still with us, still going strong at 78. He’s an athlete, competing regularly in the Senior Olympics among other venues. It keeps him young and vibrant. I didn’t speak to her today but I have no doubt she spoke to Bill.

I wondered when Justin would call. Kevin always lights up when he gets the chance to talk with his son. Understandably. It’s a strong bond, and they’ve always had a strong relationship, even during the tumultuous teen years.

Justin and Kevin

I watched Kevin come back with coffee and listened to the morning and this Father’s Day. A day to celebrate today’s dads and yesterday’s gone by, and a day to celebrate the warm sunshine, the tickling breeze, the birds chirping, and the Squire.

Only four were missing. Terry, Tom, Maguire and Justin, but we’ll speak to one of them later today and that will be enough. Hearing Justin’s voice on this day will be today’s definition of living it out loud.

The Saturday way: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 10, 2012 1:43 AM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The squire here. I’ve been gone for a couple of weeks. Took Mrs. Squirrel on a little trip down the street and into the park. There are some great trees in that park especially in the back. Her best squirl-friend, Iz, lives down there. She used to live up here closer to us, on the next street over plus one, but she’s not a plus one anymore. She and her Mr. split up. He got kind of infatuated with a gopher and Iz threw him out. Now she lives in this really cool bush sort of down under. Mrs. Squirrel says that’s like Australia only not as far. It seemed pretty far to me.

We were there for a long time. Probably only a week but it seemed like a year, or it would have if I actually knew what a year was. I know it’s a really long time so that’s how long we were staying with Iz. A. Really. Long. Time. I don’t like Iz. Mrs. Squirrel knows that but she says that you have to support your friends when they’re going through a rough patch. To me a rough patch is like being caught under somebody’s tires, Mrs. Squirrel doesn’t find that kind of humor very funny. Usually I just shut up and go along. I hung out on one the upper branches mostly and showed up with dinner.

Today we came home and while Mrs. Squirrel was busy cleaning up the den, I decided to make sure that nothing had changed while we’d been gone. The flowers? Check. My favorite perch above His house? Check. Even my stash of acorns was still hidden safely inside the big white tree that’s in their yard. It’s so quiet in the yard now, with the big guy gone. He used to sprawl out under the white tree. I would watch him from the wall. He’d sleep and sleep. Occasionally his ear would twitch because of a bug or the wind or something. Then he’d roll over and sleep on the other side. When he got older, he and I didn’t play as much. I understood. He was tired. But he was still a good barker.

I miss that guy.

Me, making small in the tree

I hopped up onto the patio cover and hung down through one of the slats to look inside. I hadn’t seen my people in a while and I was sort of missing them. They were in the bedroom. She was standing in the middle of the bed except she wasn’t. The mattress that’s usually on the bed was standing straight up in the air. It looked like some kind of really thick sail, and then they slid it out over the end of the bed, picked up and she continued over, coming toward me while he walked to the other side. With a huff, they dropped the mattress. I think it made a harrumph sound when it landed. It sounded like the big guy when he used to flop down. It’s like all the air would escape from his body. Did I say I miss that guy?

As I watched, they started putting new sheets on the bed. She finished while he went and got a bucket, a little ladder, the vacuum cleaner and these big things that fit over his ears. I heard her ask him why he needed to wear ear muffs with the vacuum cleaner. He looked at her from where he was perched up on the mini ladder, and said “what?” She rolled her eyes and went back to making the bed.

Then she started cleaning the bathroom while he started pulling the window screens out and taking them outside, followed by the windows too. He had a hose and something in a bottle that smelled really bad.

He looked up at me once, hanging down off the overhang, and he smiled and nodded.

“Squire,” he acknowledged. “Where you been?”

I told him about going on a little vacation, about having to spend time with the Mrs’ friends and he nodded like he understood, though he said he actually liked all of Her friends. He especially liked Bobbi and Diane and Pam. I don’t know Pam but I’ve seen Bobbi and Diane. They’re nice.

Then I heard Mrs. Squirrel calling. She needed help. I watched Him do the windows and I saw her cleaning up inside and I thought that it was pretty cool that they were doing stuff together even though they were doing it apart. I looked back toward the den, pulled myself up off the cover, and hopped onto the tree, across the branches, into the other tree, down the trunk, up the next tree, over onto the wall and on into the den.

I smiled. Honey, I’m home.

In service

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 5, 2012 11:33 PM

Today is primary day in California but unlike many other states, it’s pretty low-key. Mitt Romney has already clinched the republican party nomination, Obama is the sole democrat on the ballot, and California is mostly a forgone conclusion anyway. We’re heavily blue out here. There are also some open seats for congressional seats. There has been a lot of redistricting, and so we had to choose who we want to run in the fall. There are also some ballot initiatives, though thankfully not as many as usual. I’m not a big fan of ballot initiatives, especially if they involve allotting a certain amount of money to a certain cause. I’m all for causes, but when people vote to assign money they usually forget that the money needs to come from somewhere else. It’s very myopic. I usually just vote no.

We vote at the elementary school that’s here in the ‘hood. For years we’ve gone at lunchtime. This way we avoid any crowds. Usually there are a few people there; sometimes there are a few more. In 2008, when Obama was elected, it was fairly packed. There was actually a line. Both Kevin and I were thrilled to see that and to wait. I’ve never missed an election, even the smaller ones. I consider it my job as an informed member of the electorate. Besides, I feel more comfortable complaining when I know I had a say.

Today was no different. At about 12:15, we laced up our walking shoes and trucked on down to Red Oak Elementary. School was still in session. There were kids on the playground, at recess, kicking the soccer ball, running around, playing. We walked up the driveway and followed the flags to the auditorium. There were two tables, one labeled A – K, the other L – Z. We made our way to table two, signed in, got our ballots, each went to one of the little voting stands, drew lines between the arrows of the people we were choosing and then put the ballot through the electronic counter. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes.

Outside the auditorium, there were also quite a few kids sitting at the long tables often found on schoolyards and in cafeterias. They’re like elongated picnic tables. There was much chatter and the wonderfully melodic sound of children’s laughter. We glanced back and sitting on the ground behind a little girl at one of the tables, was a yellow Labrador retriever service dog. He was sitting perfectly still, wearing his red service dog vest. He turned his head to look at us. He yawned. Other kids ran by him, there was a great deal of commotion as there often is at an elementary school. He never moved from his post. 

I have long been and suspect I’ll always remain absolutely awed by the canine species. So trusting and true, so loving and in the best circumstances, so loved. I am also amazed by service dogs. Service dogs are trained extensively to help those with various disabilities. Since 1929, when the Seeing Eye Guide Dog organization was established, service dogs have walked beside us. By definition, a service dog has been trained to perform tasks that mitigate the disability of the dog's owner. Since each person experiences a disability differently and therefore has different needs for assistance, each dog is somewhat custom-trained for the individual it will be helping. A dog trained to assist a person in a wheelchair might be taught to pick up dropped items, open and close doors, and turn on and off lights. A dog trained to assist a person who can’t see well might be taught to avoid obstacles at the level of a person's eyes.

There are currently about 20,000 people in the country who use service dogs to help them to see, hear, be more mobile and be more engaged. There are service dogs that help detect seizures and low blood sugar levels, and Ssig dogs, or social signal dogs to help people challenged by autism. Psychiatric service dogs help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, bi-polar disorder, panic attacks and more.

Yesterday, on MSNBC.com, my browser home page, there was a story about soldiers who suffer from disorders like PTSD getting service dogs, or not getting them even when they’re desperately needed. Army Specialist David Bandrowsky, profiled in the article, is lucky enough to have a service dog named Benny. They’ve been together since last November and Bandrowsky feels unsafe if the dog is not at his side. However, according to an Army policy instituted in January, limiting how soldiers can get service dogs, the program is now at great risk, as is Benny’s continued service to his master.

That’s where organizations like Dog Bless You can make a real difference. This group recently started a cause they’re calling Operation Freedom, Lucky’s Army. Lucky is the golden retriever who evidently runs the Facebook page. Their goal is to celebrate the spirit of 76 by donating 76 service dogs to war vets by the 4th of July. For every 1000 likes they get on their page, they donate one dog. As of today, they were up to 24 dogs.

Lucky

Dog bless them, and dog bless all service dogs. They’re doing what dogs do best. Providing comfort, companionship, their eyes and ears; their instinct.

Perhaps the writer Gene Hill put it best when he wrote this:
“He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.) When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful. He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.”

A service dog in Italy, 1909

Just living it out loud.

Remember me remembering you

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 28, 2012 1:53 AM

On many of the roads around California, there are countless impromptu memorials set up by the loved ones of someone killed in that spot. Flowers, stuffed bears, photographs and often a cross appear seemingly overnight. I’ve never seen anyone actually placing such a memorial but I’ve often come across one that wasn’t there the previous day. Mostly they appear on side roads, roads less travelled than freeways. They’re sweet mementos, a way to remember someone, a way to share grief.

Larger versions of these memorials spring up every time someone of stature dies and the public needs to express their sympathies and their empathy with the family. One of the largest in memory was the memorial that sprang up outside of Kensington Palace when Princess Diana was killed some 15 years ago. A few bouquets of flowers grew to be thousands, accompanied by cards, photographs, and more. It was touching enough that it prompted a visit from the always stoic Queen Elizabeth.

I never fail to notice these memorials, or to be touched by them. I often wonder who it was that died, how and why. Death is still, to me, such a fate-filled phenomenon, especially when it visits someone young and full of life, at least until that fateful trip around a corner on Mulholland going a little too fast, like a princess speeding through a Paris tunnel in the middle of the night. I marvel at the random nature of it. I suppose if you spend too much time dwelling on that randomness, you can become bogged down with it, become depressed. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I choose to err on the side of positive whenever possible. It’s better than the alternative, and worrying and wondering doesn’t matter a damn. Such is the nature of fate.

This weekend is, of course, Memorial Day, a commemoration for those who have fallen in service defending our country. Interestingly it began in 1865 as Decoration Day when freed slaves celebrated their liberation. It included a memorial for Abraham Lincoln who was assassinated that same year. Because of the enormous number of Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the civil war, Decoration Day was soon expanded, with events held in the North in 183 cemeteries in 1868 and 336 cemeteries in 1869. Decoration Day changed to Memorial Day in 1882 but was not officially declared by Congress until June 28, 1968. Most children today consider it the official start of summer since it’s starting to get warm and it’s just a matter of another week or two until they’re officially out of school. Most adults with children think the same, though probably in not quite as giddy a way. Many who have family members and friends who have lost someone in a war or other conflict take this time to visit grave sites, and to remember those people with love.

I haven’t lost anyone I know in a war. My mother’s father was killed in World War II but she was three at the time. But I have lost a number of people that I loved dearly and who I continue to think about, to miss, and to wonder what they might be doing if they were still here.

Today, I’m celebrating my father, who died ten years ago this month. I think of him all the time but no longer in grief; more just sadness. If he was still with us, he’d be on the golf course. Maybe by now, he’d be in the clubhouse having a cold pint of Sam Adams.

My Aunt Eleanor who died when I was 14. I still remember her riding the rollercoaster with me at Kennywood Park in Pennsylvania. She was the only one who would.

My grandmothers. My dad’s mom who preceded him in death by 6 months, a little dynamo of a woman who could whip up a batch of fudge like nobody’s business, who often cleared the table before anyone was done eating, and who stood about 5’1” tall, 5’6” with her beehive hairdo. My mom’s mom who was a holy terror when she was younger but who mellowed with age. I always thought she was born into the wrong era, that she would have been happier as someone of my generation, who could have been independent without having to explain why. I still remember her telling Kevin at my sister’s wedding, when he asked her if he could get her anything: “Yes. A whisky sour.”

My great Aunt Trene, my dad’s mom’s sister who died not too long ago, the last of that generation. She would probably be playing golf with my dad, and also having a beer with him in the clubhouse.

My Tori Lynn, my much loved cat who was diagnosed with cancer when she was 10. We staved it off for a while, but she eventually grew tired of the fight and I had to make the agonizing decision to have her put to sleep. It was the first time I ever had to do that.

Our beloved Maguire, our big old bear of a boy, our vintage puppy. He was with us for just over 15 years, and his loss has scarred us deeply. He left us on March 6, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t miss him, when I don’t long to hear his tags hitting the floor as he rolls over, his bark from the window welcoming us home, the squeak of a chosen toy as he plays. There isn’t a day that I don’t remember.

There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t still love all the ones I celebrate today. Memorial day, then, can be every day. And every day spent remembering is a day spent living it out loud. 

Dogs and cats, living together? OMG!

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 26, 2012 2:34 AM

Those who know me know that I while I am fairly fluent in the acronyms of the intertubes, I rarely engage in their usage. Perhaps it’s the writer in me but I have a very hard time using phrases like LOL, LMAO, BTW, and even WTF. Interestingly I use WTF often when I’m just talking; I find it funny. It’s not that I find fault with the acronyms. I think it’s just that, as a writer, I feel it’s necessary to spell out words and phrases at all times, even in emails, even in texts. I actually text in complete sentences, for the most part, with correct punctuation. It annoys even me.

There are exceptions, however, and I’m making one today because Diane sent an email around with the subject line of “Every cat should have a dog” and OMG were the pictures adorable, amazing, fabulous, wondrous and life-affirming.

I’ve always wondered when dogs and cats became the Hatfields and the McCoys of the animal kingdom, the latter having one of the most infamous feuds in American history. It started between Randolf “Ole Ran’l” McCoy who lived in Kentucky and William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield who lived in West Virginia during the Civil War. They were separated by a tributary of the Big Sandy River called Tug Fork. The feud began with the murder of a returning Union soldier named Asa Harmon McCoy who was killed on January 7, 1865 by a group of ex-Confederate soldiers. Though Devil Anse Hatfield was a suspect, it was later confirmed that he was home, sick in bed, at the time of the murder. It was Hatfield’s uncle who was widely believed to have killed Asa Harmon, tracking him to the cave where he lived and shooting him dead. As if this murder wasn’t bad enough, thirteen years later, a dispute over the ownership of a hog escalated to the killing of a relative of both families, Bill Staton, who had testified that the pig was indeed the Hatfields. Since the case was presided over by a judge named Anderson “Preacher Anse” Hatfield, the McCoys lost. Then came the romance of Roseanne McCoy and Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield, and then another series of murders on both sides perpetrated by both sides. The feud reached its peak on New Year’s 1888 when the Hatfields opened fired on a sleeping family of McCoys inside their cabin. The cabin was then set on fire. It was known throughout them-thar parts as the New Year’s Night Massacre. And so it continued.

But evidently the Hatfields and the McCoys ain’t nothing compared to dogs and cats, who, according to popular lore, have long had a mostly hate-hate relationship. There are many theories but since neither dogs nor cats can speak, the theories remain just that.

It seems that at some point, a dog, a big, blustering buffoon of an animal who is always happy to see everyone and thinks everything is for his amusement, bounded up to a cat, wagging his tail, ready for fun, and the cat in all of her pristine get-your-smelly-paws-away-from-me-you-hound glory hissed, turned and raised her tail to him. The dog was flabbergasted and tried again, giving a playful swat to the cat and that’s when she pounced, claws in full I’ll-kill-you-you-wretched-beast mode. And the dog took one big paw and slammed the cat across the room. They sat there, the two of them, brooding, hissing and drooling and ever since that fateful day whose unknown date will nevertheless live in infamy, they have hated, despised, wanted each other to die.

Or do they? It seems that the reason dogs and cats may have been taught to hate each other is simply because they’re so different. And all species are taught to hate each “the other” if for no other reason that their differences. The color of skin, the length of fur, the religious preferences, the hunting of prey. Each species has unique characteristics that make it different but not wrong; dogs and cats have been caught up in this blasphemy.

If they’re raised together, though, as puppy and kitten, they don’t know they’re different. They’re raised as just two little ones and they’re completely alike, one maybe bigger than the other, but still they’re equals. They grow up in the same house, with the same love. You have to wonder what the Hatfields and McCoys could have accomplished if they’d been raised and become friendly together.

I’ve come to the belief that dogs and cats living together is fine and it was reinforced today by the pictures that Diane sent.

Of course, I suggested a subject line change: “Every dog should have a cat.”

IMHO. 

The importance of toys

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 23, 2012 1:21 AM

I am a grown woman and I love toys. I have them all over my house and I’m proud of that. In my office, directly in front of me when I sit at my desk working is a Samantha Stevens/Bewitched doll complete with hat and broom. On top of the shelf is an antique croquet game. In the corner is an enormous stuffed bear from FAO Schwartz in New York. I have blocks, a Winnie the Pooh, a Piglet, an Eeyore and a Tigger. In the bookshelf are some stuffed animals; atop my bookshelf is a Scarlett O’Hara Barbie doll and a Scully and Mulder Barbie and Ken doll set from the X-Files. They carefully guard a Tasmanian devil and an old metal lunchbox like what I carried when I was in school. On the floor is an antique doll crib with two antique dolls, one a Madame Alexander, another a Heinrich Handwerk, both bisque. Which is not to be confused with Bisquik, another blog post entirely.

Walk down the stairs and at the bottom is a black, limited edition Road Hog tricycle that I bought for Kevin for Christmas several years ago. It has motorcycle aspirations, complete with a tiny saddlebag under the saddle. On top rides a stuffed dog in a leather Harley-Davidson jacket with matching sunglasses. He looks bad-ass. Miniature motorcycles, mostly metal, are on the stairs; miniature bicycles on the fireplace mantle. On the entertainment center is a Marshall Field Tonka truck from 1955 as well as a Smith-Miller Bank of America armored truck, complete with lock.

The real toy collection begins in the bedroom, though. Like typical kids, it’s where we keep most of our stuff so that it doesn’t get underfoot, nobody slips on it, and it doesn’t clutter the living room. A shelf across the sliding glass door houses some of our best toys. Actually, Kevin’s toys. There are countless trucks mostly from the late 1950s/early 1960s including a full set of orange Tonka road crew vehicles. The set even includes road signs. I bought that for him for his birthday some years ago. On the shelf up high is a menagerie of stuff: more trucks, a Sno-Cone maker, an army tank that actually shoots something, an original erector set, a set of Lincoln logs, a metal Snow-Flake sled and a fully-functional (as long as the battery terminals aren’t corroded) King Ding robot complete with his brain, a smaller robot that rides up and down inside King Ding on an elevator.

Pebbles, a replacement of my favorite doll from when I was a child, sits next to the flat screen TV. Kevin found her somewhere on the east coast and gave her to me when we got married. I always loved that doll; she may well have been the only one I ever did love. I suspect because she first belonged to my older cousin Kim and I idolized Kim. When Kim gave her to me, it was like she had given me a million dollars. I’m sure she didn’t think that; she simply no longer had any use for the raggedy piece of plastic with a stuffed body and bad hair.

I’m not sure when or why we got so into toys, and truth be told, we’re getting a little tired of some of them. Thank dog for ebay. Still, we have some pieces that are true collectors items and worth a good deal of money. We’ll keep many of the best trucks, including Marshall Field, Bank of America and all of the trucks above the sliding glass door. They’re all in mint condition. I’ll keep Pebbles for sure. The trike stays, too.

I think toys somehow makes us feel invincible again, they remind us of a simpler time when we had no responsibilities and the biggest question of the day was “when do I have to be home for dinner?” They allow us to use our imaginations, construct worlds that don’t exist except for that day, as we play and move around our trucks and our dolls and our stuffed animals. It’s a way to create, and even to problem solve. There’s also something kind of cool about having exceptionally old, working and pristine toys in your house as an adult when there are no children around. They make people smile.

Toys and games have been discovered at the sites of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations. These discoveries include dolls and animals, whistles shaped like birds and even carts with wheels. Egyptian children had dolls that sported wigs and even had movable limbs. Most of the world’s earliest toys were made from rocks, sticks and clay. Most were made by parents for their children or by the children themselves. There was care given; each toy was more personal than the mass-produced toys of today.

But the reason for being is the same: to develop the mind and the imagination. That’s something adults could use more of, especially during especially trying times. Toys allow us to escape and to play even if it’s just in our minds, even if it’s just for pretend.

Also in the bedroom, in the corner, is Maguire’s bed. I don’t think he slept in it once during his 15 plus years. Instead, it became his toy “box,” holding all of his toys and they were plentiful. Each day, he would trot out anywhere from two to six, and after he was done playing and chewing, he’d leave them wherever he grew bored. He never learned the fine art of cleaning up after himself. Those toys are still in his bed. They allow us to imagine that he’s still with us, to pretend just for a minute that we can still hear the squeak of Pig or Moo or Hedge as he bites down for a chew.

Tonight I’m celebrating toys, celebrating the pretend. Living it out loud.

A gray Mercedes, three golden retrievers, a mutt and a woman named Donna

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 19, 2012 1:36 AM

Friday afternoons tend to be quiet. Most of my clients – and Kevin’s, too – are busy wrapping up their weeks and looking forward to the weekend. Starting around 1 pm, the emails begin to taper off as do the phone calls. People don’t want to review anything or discuss anything new; most everything can and does wait until Mondays. This is true in most businesses whether you’re self-employed or not. By Friday, the week is done. By Friday afternoon, the weekend has begun. For this reason, I often schedule our hair appointments on Friday afternoons. Today was such a day.

Around 2:45 we both put on jeans, grabbed a lightweight leather jacket from the hall closet, a helmet of choice from the garage (open face for Mr. Michel; closed for Mrs.), climbed aboard the big Nomad and jetted off into the Valley for 3 o’clock appointments.

The day was lovely, the sun warm, the air cool. Naturally it was warmer once we got into Woodland Hills, often 10º hotter than where we live. Still, it wasn’t so warm that we were uncomfortable in our leathers. We arrived at the salon just after 3 but it wasn’t a problem. We were the only clients Tammy had today because two weeks ago she fell and broke the wrist and elbow on her left arm. Makes it difficult to cut hair. Still, she was offering color and though we both need a haircut, me somewhat desperately, we decided that color was better than nothing. Kevin had his painted on; mine scrubbed in. For my hairdresser and salon friends: is all men’s hair color painted on? Or is it just painted on for those who have – how shall I put this magnanimously – thinning hair and receding hairlines? I mean no disrespect; I love my husband’s hair.

When we were freshly shampooed, I blow dried my own hair. Again please see broken wrist and elbow above, and we chatted for a bit longer before climbing back on the bike and journeying home. We had talked about stopping at the grocery store on the way. There’s no Fritini tonight since Bobbi has a mock test tomorrow for the second part of her testing to become a licensed therapist. Next weekend is Memorial Day so perhaps we’ll do something then; we’ll see. I had mentioned that we could just go home since there was no rush and it was still fairly early, shower and then go to the store in the car. But Kevin decided that since we were out, we should just go past the turn for the house and continue on to the light, turn left and hit our favorite neighborhood grocery.

He drove up and around the top of the parking lot, turning down toward the store at the end, looping around to the next aisle and then coming to a stop next to a gray Mercedes sedan. I slid off toward the car and started undoing my helmet strap. That’s when I saw a big blonde head, mouth open in a silly grin, big floppy ears perked forward, nose against the glass watching me from the safety of the nice leather back seat. And then there was another one, this one a little redder. They were crawling over each other, peering at the strange visitors, obviously from another planet. But they weren’t scared; rather just curious. The redder one stayed in her prone position while the blonder one stood, tail swooshing back and forth over his redheaded little sister. I was thrilled as I usually am when I see dogs in a car. I want to stick my hand through the open windows, and this car had all four windows down slightly and was parked in the shade. I want to pet them and kiss on them. But I’m smart enough to realize that that’s stupid. Instead, I grinned back and said “hi, beautiful!” and the tail wagged more.

Then, two pointy ears appeared in the lower part of the front passenger seat window. “Oh, another one!” This dog was much smaller, and hard to determine as far as breed. I suspected mutt. It would later be confirmed that my suspicion was correct.

As I was fawning over the dogs, Kevin came up next to me, a huge grin on his face as well. He started making his usual hand-gestures, sort of pointing/waving/beckoning them to come to him even though they were in the car. He wanted, like me, to just pet them, rough up their ears, smell their fur. He moved toward the back of the car so he could see them through the back window. The red one had her paws up on the back of the car and her head leaning on the back seat as she gazed out with adoration at my husband. Then Kevin made a discovery: “There’s a third one!” On the far side of the backseat, another big blonde bear of a head appeared. Three golden retrievers in the back seat of this gray Mercedes sedan and one smaller, pointy-eared mutt in the front seat who didn’t seem to want to be bothered with his brethren in the back. We smiled and laughed and talked to them as they put up with us. They were waiting patiently for their person, and I think both Kevin and I were lingering a bit, hoping said person would come out.

She did, holding two small bags of groceries. We told her how beautiful her dogs were and asked if all four were hers. Three were; the forth, the redhead with her head on the back, was not. She was puppy-sitting. The puppy’s name was Abby and she’s seven months old. As we talked to the woman we also laughed as Abby tried to push her nose through the back window. Evidently Abby had been hit by a car and left on the road with a broken leg. She was rescued, surgery was performed, they weren’t sure she’d recover, but she did and she’s a happy, healthy little girl.

The woman is part of a Golden Retriever rescue group here in Ventura County. She lives locally but she’s been rescuing goldens for over seven years. We told her about Maguire, how he was part golden/part Australian Shepherd, a big boy, the love of our lives, and I started to cry, as I do every time I talk about my beloved boy. She gave me a hug. She also gave us the card of the group, Forever Friends Golden Retriever Rescue, and said that if and when we were ready to let her know.

Her name was Donna. She was on her way to the dog park. We wished her and her herd well and good “parking,” and went into the store. I was still in tears but I felt better. I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it was hope. 

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