Here's what I know: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 11, 2012 10:36 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The squire here, just pondering on life in general and people in particular on this very hot Saturday. Usually on a Saturday, I'm leaping between trees, looking for fun things to steal and eat, stopping every once in a while to have a quick chat with a buddy over a drink of sprinkler-puddle. But I just don't have the energy today - plus all the puddles have already disappeared - so I'm hanging in my favorite tree out in the front yard, the big maple with the really big leaves that rustle around me in the breeze and also keep me covered in all kinds of shade. It's not cool but it's comfortable.

Here's what I know:
That when it's hot, people don't like to do anything but stay inside and complain.

That the girl that lives across the street with the little white car seems to have a lot of accidents.

That some people yell for no good reason but that others yell because they're trying to make a point. If you have to yell about it, maybe it's not worth making.

That the lady with the big-time skinny dog yells at her kids all the time especially outside in the driveway.

That dirty laundry is something kids bring home from college or from their apartment. Also that they only wash their cars when their dad says "are you ever going to wash that thing or do I have to do it for you?" Sometimes the kids hand over the keys with a big grin.

That some people are nice and always say hello and wave even when they don't know your name and that others try to run you over.

Me, in the tree, on a hot Saturday

That birds are noisy and don't like to share but that they fly.

That butterflies are free, at least once they stop being caterpillars.

That Dairy Queen isn't actually ice cream but that it melts just as fast and that when it does, it's very tasty. Also, sticky. Hey Kevin used to work at a Dairy Queen when he was a pup. He calls it DQ and he always has a big smile on his face when he talks about it, like he liked working there.

That some people like to work and some people really don't but that everyone has to. Some people, like Hey Lorin, actually like what they do for work and would do it even if they didn't have to which is crazy since it's practically a rule. She calls that a perfect world.

That Cher is kind of fun when she's turning back time. I always liked that song.

That I still really miss my Knight. He was such a big bear of a dude and he used to give me such a hard time when he and I were just pups. Then he got older and he didn't run around as much. It seemed to make him almost smarter. He'd say to me, when we were both out in the backyard and he was down on the ground and I was up in the tree, he'd say: "Squire, here's what I know. When you pick out good people, you can have a good life that almost always includes cheese."

That a perfect world isn't actually possible but that a perfect puddle, a perfect song, a perfect melted DQ and a perfect memory are.

There's the breeze again, moving through my fur and around my ears. That's kind of perfect on a hot day, too. Later it will not be as hot and dogs will get to go for walks and I'll get to watch them and wonder what it's like to walk with a string attached.

Here's what I know about that: when strings are attached, it can be hard to do everything you want. But sometimes doing everything you want isn't what's best. Also, strings hold things together and together is better than apart. That's what I know today.

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.

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.

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.

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

Kevin and Lorin's wildlife preserve

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:48 PM

We have a very small piece of property here in the OP. Like many who live in Southern California tracts, our house is up against other houses, on both sides. We’re separated by six foot concrete walls that have been erected to provide some sense of privacy. Kevin likes to joke that when Dave, our neighbor on the right, sneezes, Kevin can reach out the window and hand him a tissue. I’m not complaining. We have a lovely little house on a lovely little piece of dirt. How little? 5039 square feet according to Which is what makes my news even more amazing: it appears that we have our own special wildlife preserve right here on Wiggin Street.

This is news because most wildlife preserves are bigger. The smallest one I can find that has received the official wildlife preserve designation is the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in Mille Lacs County, Minnesota. It’s just over half an acre, around 22000 square feet, and consists of two small islands on Mille Lacs Lake where several threatened bird species like ring-billed gulls, herring gulls, and double-crested cormorants live and breed. The refuge was granted its official status on May 14, 1915.

We have not applied for such a status ourselves but given the happenings around here, I anticipate having to file the necessary paperwork any day now. To wit: a Red-tailed hawk who regularly perches on our wall, in various places. Sometimes he’s right outside the greenhouse window in the kitchen. Every time he does that and I walk into the kitchen not knowing that he’s re-established residence, he scares me. Or maybe he’s a she. I have no idea which and don’t really need to know. He/she also perches on the wall just outside Kevin’s studio, one time complete with prey. I don’t remember what the prey was and I didn’t look too closely. I’m suspect it was a bird. But he placed said prey on the wall next to him, and proceeded to survey his/her kingdom in that steely hawk way. Like a statue, the bird didn’t move. Only his head pivoted, in slow motion, from right to left. Then he snatched up his dinner and off he flew.

Then there are the coyotes. While they don’t spend a lot of time on the refuge they do spend a lot of time on the periphery. I remember taking Maguire out one night before we all went to bed. I always checked for other dogs in the vicinity since other dogs and Maguire didn’t get along. As we were standing there in the front yard, the vintage puppy and I, I was doing my best impersonation of the red-tailed hawk, my head pivoting from side to side as I continued to make sure no canines approached. My head stopped; I stared. Coming down the sidewalk was what looked to be a dog, sans its person. I grabbed Maguire’s collar, and he looked at me with disdain. He wasn’t yet finished. I pulled him inside the house and then went back out. If there was a loose dog, I was going to grab him and call his owner. But it wasn’t a canine; it was a canis latrans. A coyote. I stood on the sidewalk. He veered from the sidewalk and moved to the middle of the street, trotting along, his eyes never leaving me. He stopped in front of me. For a minute, I wondered: should I be afraid? I continued to stare and he continued on his merry way to wherever. In the dark, from the shadowed hills, we hear others like him cry.

There are any number of other species of birds who hop about the yard; Squire and Mrs. Squirrel live there. Many lizards dart across the patio; a collared lizard stuck in the track of the screen door got quite irritated with Kevin one Saturday and hissed his way into the back yard. A rabbit or two has been known to show his cottontail. One appeared the night after Maguire passed. I caught a glimpse of him as I wandered aimlessly around the house, looking for my best buddy knowing he was lost forever. I noticed something odd on the sidewalk in front of the house, illuminated by the soft light of the garage lanterns. I walked to the window; it was a rabbit, poised, beautiful, still.

This morning, just before 9 am, Kevin started to go out the front door and immediately closed it as if he’d been stung. He motioned frantically, silently for me to come, quickly. I set my coffee cup down and went to see what he was so excited about. I peered through the long window next to the front door, the window that had previously shown me the rabbit. Just off the front stoop, sitting in a puddle of sprinkler water was a mother duck and six babies. We were astounded. Kevin ran for the camera as I watched the mother duck rise, shake her feathers into place and turn toward the road. She glanced back. The little ducks rolled over themselves as they tried to get ready to follow their mother. In a nice line, they trooped off, no doubt looking for a bigger puddle.

We couldn’t help but imagine Maguire, who even in his vintage days would bound out of the house into the front yard. He would have started, and then stopped short. We could imagine him looking back at us, then looking forward, the ducks frozen in fear of the big dog. We could hear him say: Hey. Did you guys know there were ducks out here? I like ducks. I really like baby ducks. Hey. The sidewalk smells a little like baby duck butt. Ducks are kind of like chicken aren’t they? I like chicken. A lot. So I’m pretty sure I like duck. But Dad? Why are there ducks on the sidewalk?

We would give anything to have heard him say that today, here at Kevin and Lorin’s wildlife preserve.

Big paws to fill: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 28, 2012 8:19 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel


Just last week, I was lying on top of the little house in the backyard. I like it up there. The sun hits it just right and it’s warm and makes me feel cozy. I can lay flat, too. I like to lay flat. It makes me feel invisible, then I can observe stuff.

Anyway, there I was, flat, and listening to their conversation. She was talking about who she might get to be a guest blogger once in a while because it took some of the pressure off of her to always get a post done. I don’t really know what a post is, other than a part of a fence, but the more I listened the more I thought: hey, I could do this guest blogging thing. I mean, how hard can it be? She does it every day and I know that big old bear that used to live here did it every once in a while. He was really smart, that guy, you know, for a dog. We even got to be friends. Oh, sure, every once in a while I’d tease him but it was just to keep him on his toes. I’d sneak up on him, creeping across the wall, and then I’d jump into the tree and he’d look up. When he saw me, I swear he’d smile. Then he’d jump up and I’d hang down off of a branch and he’d rear up like a horse and I’d bark and he’d growl. That was a lot of fun.

I miss that guy.

Me, in the tree

So I got to thinking that I could be the guest blogger. I wrote a quick message and put it in an empty shell and dropped it down from the gutter just outside their bedroom window. I heard her say “what was that?” and He said “probably that damned squirrel.” I smiled. I do like to be a little mischievous and I love to take a flying leap from the wall and land right on the roof of the little house. The little house is His. She has the big house. That’s how it is in my family, too. Mrs. Squirrel gets the big den; I get a little hole in the dirt outside.

My message in an acorn must have been received though cause I heard Her laugh. I grabbed hold of the gutter and hung over it upside down so I could see her. She was thinking about it, I could tell. She had all kinds of looks on her face. One minute she looked like she thought it would be fun; she was smiling. Then she kind of cocked her head to one side like she wasn’t sure. But the smiling fun face won and I got a message back in my acorn asking me to be a guest blogger and did I have any ideas for topics.

I didn’t. But She said that was OK because sometimes topics just present themselves when they’re ready. I asked what the Big Dog used to write about and she paused for a minute and then she said “he wrote about his life here with us.” He was really smart.

I miss that guy.

We were friends. He was the knight and I was his squire. I looked it up and it fits. Squires were like apprentice knights. They were responsible for keeping the knight’s armor and stuff in order. With the Big Dog gone now, that really kind of makes sense. One of his “stuff” was him being a really good guest blogger. Now it’s up to me to keep that guest blogger thing going so that it’s at least kind of as good as his was.

Yep, I have mighty big paws to fill. But if you’ll let me, I’d like to give it a try.

I’m Squire Squirrel, guest blogger in training. I sure could use some pointers. Like, for instance, how the dog was able to get his big paws to hit all the right keys. My much littler paws are all over the place. Practice makes perfect. That’s what the Big Dog woulda said. Then he would have yawned and rolled over in the sun.

Yep. I miss him.

So I’m going to write about stuff I see from the outside, like observations. See ya next time!

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