In which Lorin discovers her best reason yet to drink wine

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 25, 2012 10:26 PM

I was doing a little reading today when I was supposed to be doing a little writing. This happens often when I’m tired. I can spend hours not writing. I can find any number of reasons to continue not writing. I start laundry, I make phone calls, I surf the ‘net. I send out emails that do entail some writing but it’s minimal allowing me to get through them fairly easily, though each one takes me longer than it otherwise would. At 1:30, the doorbell rang. Usually my first thought is: go away. If someone is ringing the doorbell it usually means they want to either sell me something (religion; magazines; girl scout cookies) or want to sell something for me (real estate agents who want me to list my house). Either way, I’m not buying and I’m not selling.

When Maguire was alive, the doorbell used to be cause for not-wanted sales people to run away quickly. Nothing says go away better than an 80 pound dog bounding to the door, feet flying in all directions, ears fully forward, tail straight out, fur standing straight up, seen through the window, barking his fool head off. I used to stand at the top of stairs and laugh as the bell-ringing offender scurried off. Even in his vintage puppy days, he would still amble toward the door, nothing really flying, but ears still fully forward, fur standing somewhat up, barking his deeper, wisdom-filled, get-off-my-lawn bark. People were still intimidated but not always as scared.

Today’s ringing doorbell only brought me to the door. I wasn’t running with limbs flying, though my ears were somewhat alert. My hair wasn’t standing straight up and my tail – well, let’s just leave my tail out of this. Also, no barking. The only reason I even ambled, and I did amble, to the door rather than ignore it entirely was because I needed a break from all of my not-writing, and I knew it was the delivery guy from the California Wine Club. Each month we get a delivery from the club, red wines from many boutique wineries, usually in the state but always from the west. They come right to the door, announced by the doorbell. The previous day, they are announced by an email that says to expect the shipment. This is good because one has to sign when one gets a wine delivery.

I signed my name, took the box, bid the delivery dude adieu, or hasta la vista, and ambled to the kitchen to open it up and see what delectable delights awaited my palette. It was wine from Tobin James of Paso Robles. Since we only get red, we got four bottles of Titan Hills Fiasco, a reserve red wine from 2008. It’s a blend of Syrah (55%), Zinfandel (25%) and Barbera (20%). I have no doubt we’ll be trying it shortly.

Since I needed to get back to my non-writing, I grabbed the newsletter that always accompanies each shipment, and headed upstairs. It’s called Uncorked, and its main story was “It’s a party in your glass at Tobin James Cellars.” I settled back into my desk chair and started flipping through, stopping when I found an article about the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. Turns out they are numerous. For instance, 1,379 people in an Icelandic study who drank moderately were 32% less likely to get cataracts. In the European Journal of Neurology, Belgian researchers posted their study of 1,431 people with multiple sclerosis and their findings that the ones who enjoyed wine also enjoyed less inflammation.

Wine, according to the University of Spain, can help keep you skinny, or at least “lower the risk of obesity.” It can protect the body against some cancers, due to the phenolic compounds, or antibacterials. It can also reduce the chance of stroke.

But the biggest news I found was this, and I quote: “There are major findings like reduced mortality for moderate drinkers…” If I drink wine my chances of mortality are reduced. Pause for effect.

I won’t die if I drink wine. If that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what it is.

Honey? Pour me a glass.

Paws and effect

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 23, 2012 11:07 PM

I have a new piece of jewelry. It’s a small silver triangle, hanging on a 16” chain. On the front, there is a smaller black oxidized triangle with a silver paw print in the center; on the back, the name Maguire is etched into the silver. My sister and niece gave this necklace to me when they arrived on Thursday night. It’s made by a company in California called 4 Paws Forever that was founded to celebrate and remember the lives of pets that have passed away. Their craftsman use traditional methods of making jewelry using Earth-Friendly materials. Each memorial is designed to celebrate a pet that has passed. The piece currently hanging around my neck is the perfect way to celebrate my wonderful boy and to keep him close to my heart.

I’m forever amazed at the generosity of people when it comes to the loss of a pet. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows the joy they bring, the complete love they offer and should be given in return. Anyone who has lost a pet can immediately access the feeling of loss and despair; anyone who has a pet looks at him or her with the knowledge that someday they’ll have to endure the profound sadness that supplants the current joy. Knowing that others get it and are willing to share it with you – in this case with me – helps. It helped when we lost Maguire; it helps every day.

My sister is a big animal lover. She and her family lost their dear Hogan about four years or so ago. He was twelve, a shepherd mix, and they had had him since he was a puppy. The loss was profound as it always is. But when the time was right, they got a new puppy, a border collie/Australian shepherd mix named Lucky. She’s a spazz; she’s a good girl.

Khris gives money to animal rights causes; she gets incensed by cruelty. We saw a dog in the back of a pickup truck this weekend while she was here and both of us wanted to chase the guy down and tell him that if he couldn’t take care of his dog correctly perhaps he shouldn’t even have the dog. We didn’t. But we wanted to. When I found a site a week or so ago called Old Dog Haven, she and I shared long distance tears for the old dogs, our vintage puppies, that we’d lost. The dear old souls, with faces that seem so full of wisdom and sacrifice, humility and love, make me feel both sad and grateful. Sad for the fact that many have been tossed aside by owners; grateful to have known the wonder that comes from having an old dog. We’re both going to sponsor a vintage pup in memory of the vintage boys we’ve lost.

The joy that our pets bring is forever. Remembering them, keeping them close, wearing remembrances like this necklace help when they’re gone. I still want my Maguire to be here. I’d rather have my boy than the necklace, a sentiment I know my sister understands. But if I can’t have him, I can have my beautiful Paws Forever necklace, hanging close to my heart, bringing me comfort, and filling me with love. That’s always worth celebrating.

Tomorrow my girls leave, and I’ll be sad again. But I’ll wear them close to my heart, too. Forever. That’s paws and effect.

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live out loud | relative celebrations

My house is clean and I don't like it at all

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 17, 2012 9:36 PM

It occurs to me that I need to clean my house because I have company coming this week. On Thursday night, my wonderful sister Khristan and my equally fabulous niece Shawn will be arriving for a five-night, four-day stay at our decidedly 3-star establishment, their will-they-or-won’t-they question having been answered decisively this morning. They’re coming!

So I have to clean.

Now our little house isn’t that dirty. Since it’s just Kevin and I, the only two rooms that really ever get a little cranky in the mess department are the kitchen, for obvious reasons, and the master bath. I like to cook and do so almost nightly though admittedly some nights are much more elaborate and thus messy than others. For instance, this past Saturday night I grilled salmon and topped it with a blueberry garlic sauce. Blueberries stain. Luckily we don’t have any white in the kitchen anymore. Several years ago, we redid the countertops and the cabinets. The cook-top stove is still a little on the white side though I think of it as light gray, and it’s made of a resin that doesn’t stain.

On Sunday night, I made a pork loin roast with a fennel/vermouth/sour cream sauce, and served roasted fingerling potatoes with Dijon mustard greens as the go-along. The prep was more messy than the cooking; the cleanup equally so.

Luckily I have a husband who, while he doesn’t like to cook, does like to help, and is an exquisite cleaner-upper. During the week, the meals tend to be more tame, and more often than not involve the grill. Still, the kitchen gets used: for coffee in the morning, a lunchtime rendezvous, and then dinner.

The master bath, well, that’s fairly self-explanatory. From hair brushing to teeth brushing, to makeup to general primping, oh, and dirty laundry, it gets messy.

When Justin lived here, his room was mostly an abomination. Clothes strewn everywhere, papers and books piled high, trash thrown on the floor rather than in the provided receptacle just because. The kitchen also got more use, as did the full bath upstairs. Justin’s bath. I had a cleaning crew who came in twice a month to scour the aforementioned kitchen and two and half baths. They also vacuumed and mopped the hard wood floor because in addition to a messy teen, we also had a dog. And while Maguire, in his older years, didn’t tear around the house any longer, he did manage to make it rather dirty. From slurping his water all over the kitchen floor and occasionally pushing some of his food over the edge of his bowl to the toys he would tear apart and leave in piles of white stuffing, discarded strings and empty plush carcasses around the house, to fur. And pet dander. And dog slobber. He was a big dog and his wonderful presence in our home also necessitated cleaning, a lot. Vacuuming the carpet in the master bedroom several times each week because the carpet was wearing his discarded fur coat. Kevin mopped the floor in the great room every day to dislodge the telltale signs of the vintage puppy, namely dried drool. And then there was the dander. We could see it dancing in the streaming sunlight, especially when he would stand and shake. Dander led to dust.

Since he’s been gone the house is remarkably cleaner. The dust seems to be less than usual; there is no dog fur or drool on the floor. As I was looking at the tables, the entertainment center, the picture frames, and the other pieces of furniture in the house, it occurred to me that I haven’t dusted in a couple of weeks. [Full disclosure: I’m not a very good housekeeper] The house really isn’t as horribly dusty as it should be considering. In fact, unless you look really, really, really, really closely, it looks pretty clean. I don’t like it. I would give anything for fur and drool and torn-apart dog toys and slopped over water and dander-dust.

But I do love the fact that my sister and niece are coming. And I do love the fact that even though it doesn’t look bad, the house will look even better come Thursday. Shiny. Sparkly. Smelling fine. With no hair and unfortunately no fur.

So I celebrate the clean, but I’m still pining for the fur. 

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live out loud

Peaceful, easy feeling

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 7, 2012 11:29 PM

It occurs to me that I don’t know how to celebrate something today. I’ve lost my best (and only) guest blogger; and I’m lost without him. I know the fact that we are healthy is something good; I know that the day was crisp and cool and sunny, that there were no catastrophes in the country that I know of are also causes to celebrate. But we’re still sad; our hearts are breaking.

I started this post a thousand times and erased it as many. Didn’t know what to write; didn’t know how to smile; wasn’t sure I could celebrate. Then I thought of my vintage puppy, that wondrous dog who filled our lives with love and dog drool for over 15 years, and I thought: celebrate that.

Celebrate his memory and how he was loved by so many. Celebrate his legacy as the best dog on the planet. There will never be another Maguire Michel, and there shouldn’t be. He was one of a kind, a true marvel in fur, and we loved him more than life. We still do. Celebrate that.

Tonight as I came downstairs, a bit dazed as I tried desperately to smile, I noticed something in the front yard. The front porch light wasn’t on but the lanterns alongside the garage were blazing brightly. It was probably close to 7 o’clock, maybe even a little after. At first I thought it was a large leaf or a branch ripped from the tree during today’s winds. But there are no leaves at this time of year, even with the warm winter we’ve endured, and the winds weren’t that strong. I walked into the kitchen and in the darkness, walked to the front bay window. I could see it was an animal. My first thought, naturally, was “oh my god, it’s a puppy.” Maguire had been found in Oak Park more than 15 years ago and someone had taken him to the Agoura Animal Shelter. But it wasn’t a puppy; it was a rabbit. He was sitting straight up in the air, his front paws tucked against his chest as he stared forward. A statue, a real-live chocolate bunny, poised and waiting, for what I had no idea. Maybe for the dog who used to live here.

After a minute, the rabbit crouched down. I looked away when I thought I heard something, and when I looked back, the rabbit was gone.

The kitchen was dark, only the light above the stove glowed, enough to cast some shadow but not enough to illuminate the room. Again I thought I heard something and thinking it was Maguire, walked toward the sound to make sure he was OK. I was nearly there before I remembered.

I kept walking anyway, straight through the house and out the back door. The full moon glowed through the trees to the left, still low in the sky, casting brilliance and wonder from the heavens down to us mere mortals below. To the right, high above, two glowing stars so close and yet so very far apart.

My brother texted me today. He said he’d gone to visit my dad in the cemetery to tell him to look out for Maguire, to take care of my dog. I couldn’t help but wonder as I looked up in the sky if maybe my dad was welcoming Maguire, and that the two of them, my stars, would be just fine, living somewhere in the universe where the fairways are long and straight, where they can walk together in perfect temperatures, where dad can have a cold beer and Maguire can have a pizza bone. So I celebrate that.

It gave me a peaceful easy feeling, one that I know won’t let me down. Because I’m already standing on the ground. 


Maguire gets a new rug: A vintage puppy tale

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:00 PM

Once upon a time a vintage puppy by the name of Maguire Michel was slip sliding around the living room floor. He would lie down for one of his countless daily naps, sprawled across the hard wood, his feet continually marching, horizontally running in place, nails scraping. It would come time for him to get up, and his heart would be in it, but the feet – and more importantly, the rear legs – just weren’t cooperating. He’d scramble, he’d strain, he’d do his best to use his spreading front legs to haul his big puppy butt up off the floor so that he could go get a drink of water, a snack, a toy, maybe go outside for a bit. To no avail.

That’s when mom or dad would sweep in to lend a helping lift, capes flying.

A week ago, the parents of said vintage puppy went away for the weekend leaving the big dog, the esteemed Maguire of the Michel variety, in the very capable hands of his dog sitter. Kevin calls her the dog whisperer. It used to be a joke, but I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t more truth to that than I originally thought.

A whisperer is an understanderer, and ours certainly seemed to understand our puppy. I left explicit instructions on what to feed him when; when to walk him and if; what to do if he has a seizure. Etc. I received text updates while away that all was well. Then we got home, and there was a two-page note that started with “Maguire wants you to know what he needs.”

Because it’s so obvious that he’s lacking for, well, everything. It’s amazing we managed to keep him alive for fifteen years, with all we had been doing wrong. One of the things on the list was that he only likes moist food, not dry. Which may be the case but moist-only food isn’t good for his teeth. Plus sometimes he likes to nosh on dry grain-free kibble. Next. He evidently really likes to walk – who knew? – and that it was important for us to take him every night, which we do. I think she misunderstood when I told her SHE didn’t need to take him.

And then she got to the rugs. As in “you need more throw rugs on the floor so he can get up on his own. It’s good for his dignity.”

Now we already have four rugs in the entrance/living/dining room area. He lays on the fairly big one in the entrance way, just outside the kitchen. He regularly camps out on the smaller one at the bottom of the stairs. The one in front of the back door is a mere stepping stone to outside, and the big oriental in the living room is mostly covered by a table so he only sometimes lays on the outer perimeter.

Kevin trotted up to Bed, Bath and Beyond and bought a new runner rug for the vintage puppy. We had actually done this prior to our trip because we had already figured the rug thing out on our own. It’s just easier for him to get up when there’s something with traction underneath.

It’s a nice rug. It goes with the décor, takes up space between the other rugs so there isn’t as much slippery hard wood to contend with. And he loves it. He lays next to it almost every day.

And that’s my vintage puppy tale for February 28, 2012.

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Going to the dogs

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 12, 2012 11:50 PM

I’m pretty sure it comes as no surprise that I’m a dog lover. Regular readers know how I adore my vintage puppy Maguire. I write about him all the time; sometimes he guest blogs, and he’s quite good (in my humble and obviously biased opinion). I adore the dog who lives across the street, a wheaten terrier named Carter; I adore my sister’s border collie/Australian shepherd mix, Lucky. I adore Diane and Gene’s two pups, the wonderfully silly Henry and the wonderfully regal Tommy. I love dogs I see walking with their owners, dogs who are in cars, their big dog heads stuck out the window, tongues flopping in the breeze. When Maguire used to ride, something he loved to do, he would thrust his head all the way out and bite at the wind, sending dog drool all over the side of the car. Dogs rule.

So I’m excited for tomorrow night. Why? The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show starts and runs for two nights in Madison Square Garden in New York. This will be the 136th annual show. There are 2,000 dogs entered, featuring the 185 breeds and varieties recognized by the American Kennel Club, showing in seven groups. Coming on the heels of the Puppy Bowl last weekend, it promises to be a great show for all of us dog lovers.

The favorites have already been chosen. The experts seem to think that the winner of the hound group will be the whippet. My neighbor, Griffy, a whippet himself, will be pleased. In the toy group, something called an affenpinscher, a small dog from the Netherlands, is favored. I have no idea what that is other than it’s undoubtedly small. I’m not particularly drawn to small dogs; not my particular style. Though, truth be told I’m also not particularly drawn to pure breds. Give me a mutt any day. I’ve often wondered why mutts don’t get a group at Westminster. Those of us who parent mutts may need to petition the board.


In the herding group, of which my Maguire falls, those in the know like the German shepherd. I’ve always thought of that type of dog as more of a guard dog, rather than a herder, but since there’s no guard category, I guess I’ll have to go with it. However, Roy, the bearded collie who won last year will be returning to give Capi, the shepherd, a prance for his money.

The favorite in the sporting group is a black cocker spaniel named Beckham who was the number one show dog in the US last year. However, a Weimaraner dubbed the grey ghost may be a spoiler. In the working dogs group, a Doberman pinscher named Fifi is likely to take the prize. They like Adam, the smooth fox terrier, in the terrier group. And for best in show, they’re going with Beckham.

But what about the other categories where they showcase the Akitas, and the Golden Retrievers, and, and, and? No mention of those big gorgeous dogs. It should be fun, regardless, with all manner of wondrous four-legged creatures strutting and preening and trying their best to win. The terrier group has won 45 times, the sporting group, 19 times; the working group has won 15 times and the non-sporting group 10 times. The toy group has won 9 times, the hound group 5 times, a herder has won once. Neither the Labrador retriever nor the Golden retriever has ever won. In 2009, the oldest dog ever awarded best in show was a Sussex Spaniel nicknamed Stump who was 10 at the time. The youngest dog to win was a rough collie named Laund Loyalty of Bellhaven (I hope he had a nickname) who was just 9 months old when he won in 1929.

I wonder if my 15-year-old vintage puppy, he of indiscriminate breeding but who used to sort of kind of be a herder, a retriever and sometimes a hound but always simply wonderful, could take best in show. Granted, he doesn’t strut as well as he used to, and he has some trouble standing for long periods of time, but he loves to be ogled and he loves to be brushed and he loves treats. I think he could take it.

If not, he’ll always be best in house.

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live out loud

I'm so pupular

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 2, 2012 7:47 PM

Guest post by Maguire

Mom said somebody requested a guest post by me. I was really excited cause I didn't know I had fans. I don't even know what fans are but I think they're good. Mom said it was good and she doesn’t lie to me. Mom said that my fan is another dog, a girl dog named Nina, who lives in Utah. I don't know where Utah is either. Maybe I can go there someday, though probably not.

When dad heard that I had fans, he laughed and gave me a hug and a kiss on the nose. I like when I get kisses on the nose. Mom said “well, of course, he has fans. He’s pupular!” and then dad started singing a song that he thought was very funny and I just rolled my eyes and rolled over. I was tired anyway and needed a nap.

I get to nap a lot and I like naps. I’m usually the first one up in the morning and then dad gets up with me so we can go outside. Then we get cookies. Well, I get cookies and dad gets coffee. I get a big cookie outside and then after I bark once to come in, I get hip cookies in the kitchen. Then dad holds up his hands to say no more and I go back into the bedroom, ram my bed with my head and then lay down for another nap. Then I get up and play with a toy. I like toys. My new favorite is Honk. I like Christmas Hedge, too and Christmas Moo. Christmas Hedge used to have a hat but I think I chewed that off. I don’t like hats.

I like to sleep with my toys. They keep me company. It’s like having all kinds of best friends. My mom and dad are my bestest friends ever. And Justin, but Justin doesn’t live here anymore. I miss him. I bet he misses me, too. I hope he comes back home soon but I don’t think he will. Mom and dad said he’s very far away and that it’s really cold there. I don’t mind when it’s cold. I’ve never seen snow but I don’t know if I’d like it. I don’t like rain and snow is kind of like rain only softer. It looks like the stuff I pulled out of Christmas Hedge yesterday. That’s what mom said. She said it looked like it snowed in the house.

Lately it’s been really nice and warm. I take a nap sometimes in the backyard in the sun. It feels really good on my back legs. I have some trouble getting up off the floor in the living room sometimes. The floor makes me slide. Mom said I need some sneakers. But I don’t think I’d like sneakers. I don’t like socks either. Whenever I can’t get up, mom or dad helps me. Then mom usually says that I’m a big boy and says something about her back, and dad says “there’s my big dog.” Then we get to go outside again and sometimes have a cookie. I like cookies.

I like my new food too. It comes in a can and when I see mom get that white thing out of the cupboard and plug it in, I know I’m getting dinner. The white thing makes kind of whir noise, and then mom scoops dinner out of the can. I started getting this kind of food after I was really sick and that vet lady came and she said I was sick and I kind of turned my head to look at her and caught my mom’s eye and we kind of said “no kidding!” together. I was really, really sick. It wasn’t fun. But then I got this new food and I haven’t been sick since. Not once.

I wonder if that’s what pupular means. I’ll ask dad. I just hope he doesn’t sing anymore.


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live out loud

Thoughts on a Friday night

by Lorin Michel Friday, January 27, 2012 11:47 PM

It's 10:47 pm. It’s very windy. The trees are whipping around in the backyard, so hard that the leaves sound like a waterfall. It’s both beautiful and a little scary.

On the tunes tonight, we have for your dancing and listening pleasure Jazzspotlight on Sinatra. Lest the name fool you, it’s not all Sinatra. It’s more the old standard tunes done in wonderfully jazzy-blues format with an occasional Ol’ Blue Eyes thrown in just for texture. It’s exactly how I like Sinatra.

Did I mention it’s windy? Sheesh. I think the house may implode. I could swear I saw the three little pigs just walk by.

Kevin is in the kitchen, cleaning up. He’s so good about stuff like that. I am very lucky. We share so much – a sense of humor, a sense of fun, a love of Justin and Maguire and wine – but we also share the house. And he has never shied away from helping to keep it nice. We used to have a cleaning lady but years ago, I put her on hold because we were doing some remodeling and it just didn’t make sense to have her come in to clean a room or two. We never had her come back, and so the two of us keep things in order. He often does the floor – he did it tonight – including vacuuming all of the rugs and then taking the wood floor cleaner to the living/dining room. I dusted. He helped cook; I did most of it. He’s cleaning up. I’m blogging. It’s a good trade-off.

Maguire has gone to bed. He was fairly active today, a vintage puppy on the move. And he was up most of the evening; no naps. We went outside just a bit ago as Roy and Bobbi left, so he could bid them bon voyage with a pee, which he did. Now he’s done. Hasta la bye-bye. See y’all in the morning.

Roy and Bobbi came tonight for a martini and some comfort food. Haven’t seen them since my birthday. It’s been a crazy month thus far, everyone’s been busy and there have been no fritinis to start off this New Year. Tonight, we officially christened 2012. The only thing missing was Diane and Gene, though it was kind of spur of the moment. Hopefully soon. It’s always great when it’s all of us. Such fun, such flowing stories and music and food and liquor. Such a fabulous way to end the week and kick off the weekend.

My sister is coming to visit. Yea! One of the constant regrets of my life out here is that my family visits so rarely. For a while, no one came. Then my mom, who absolutely hates to fly, was coming fairly regularly. When she had back surgery last August, I suspected it might be a while before she could do a plane trip. Khris hasn’t been since Shawn was three I think. She and John brought her out when she was little. They haven’t been since. But she’s coming on April 19, a Friday, and staying until Tuesday, April 24. And she’s bringing Shawn! Shawn is now 12 and a half. She’ll be a full-fledged teenager in July. Two of my favorite girls are visiting and I’m so excited. Kevin has even offered to be an honorary girl that weekend, to a point. Now I have to think of some really great things to do, places to take them. I know it will be nice to just be together, but they’re coming to California. We need to do some fun stuff.

Maguire is getting older, and he breaks my heart.

My husband is wonderful, and he fills my heart.

My kid is happy in his new school. We talked to him this morning and he told us a bit about his classes, his new house, his new life. He sounded very optimistic; he sounded good. After his first week, things are better than they were in Arizona. That’s good. But it was also snowing.

I’m busy with work, and I love it.

I’m healthy and happy. And I celebrate that.

On this Friday night, as I get ready to go to bed, I’m ready for a little downtime this weekend, some good cooking (I love to experiment and really cook some cool new dishes on Saturday when I have time) and some equally fine wine. Of course. Is there anything better than great food accompanied by great wine?

Yes. It’s my family, my friends, my life.

Living it out loud this Friday night. 

In which I am envious of a certain son's ability to be a couch potato

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, January 11, 2012 10:41 PM

Let me paint a scene for you, dear readers. It is Wednesday afternoon, about 5 pm. The sun, such as it was today, has finally gone down and darkness is blanketing the OP. I went downstairs a little while ago to switch on the lights so that Maguire wouldn’t be in the dark, not that he cares since he’s been looking at the back of gray-lashed eyelids for the better part of three hours now. Occasionally I’ll hear the nails of his back feet as they slide up and down on the floor while he runs in his dreams. Every once in a while, I look down from my loft just to make sure he’s OK.

In the room next to my office, the muffled voices of Michael, Fiona and Sam drift from a Netflix stream. Justin has been watching Burn Notice. All. Day. Long. He was at the kitchen table for a while, but after lunch he brought his cinema to the bed in what’s still sort of his room but now also doubles as our guest room. He’s intermittently sprawled on his stomach and watching, or sitting back against the pillows and watching, or lying on his back with his computer on his stomach and watching. Sensing a pattern? He is dressed in black sweatpants and a black sweatshirt, his once white socks now a lovely shade of gray. He hasn’t showered; I’m not sure he’s brushed his teeth. I hope he has. I don’t think a mother should have to ask her 21-year-old son if he’s brushed. So I don’t. He’s enjoying his couple of days of time off before he climbs back on a plane to fly to New York to begin the next and newest phase of his college career. He’s being lazy and I absolutely do not begrudge him anything. In fact, just the opposite: I’m actually envious. I would like to be lazy; I simply don’t have the time.

I also don’t think I have the personality. I’m not good at lazy, or at least actual lazy. I can sometimes manage forced lazy. By that I mean taking an afternoon, like a Saturday, and not really doing much of anything. Maybe, like Justin, watching TV. I fantasize sometimes about curling up on the couch on a rainy Saturday with a fire roaring in the fireplace and the remote control, and finding all kinds of wonderful movies to watch, one right after the other. Oh, and all the syrah I can drink without getting stupid. I realize that most people’s fantasies are more exotic, perhaps erotic. But I like my fantasy; I think I’ll keep it.

My lack of laziness I think has more to do with my inability to turn off my brain. Even when I’m forcing myself to sit and maybe – gasp – read, there are nagging little rubber bands snapping at the inside of my head, reminders of all the things I should be doing and have to finish. True relaxation, then, is not a close friend but rather just an acquaintance I’d really like to get to know better.

Kevin and I were discussing this today during our lunchtime walk. See? We can’t even relax during lunch. As we powered through our couple of miles, we were talking about Justin’s incredible ability to simply log-off. He can go into what we call check-out mode where he unplugs his brain from his life. This is not a criticism, though it might become one once he’s out in the real world. Rather, it’s more of an amazement. He’s long had this ability whereas I’m not sure Kevin or I ever had it. I worked from the time I was 14; before that I babysat. I always had a job, even in college, when I actually had three in three different restaurants. I didn’t do downtime well, and if I had some free time, I’d often call one of the restaurants to see if they had any catering gigs they needed help with. I wanted to make money. I had to be doing something. Kevin was much the same, working at Dairy Queen in Kankakee when he was a kid and on and off through college. When he had a free weekend, he was home, working to make money.

Funny how the two youngsters in our lives, the vintage puppy and the newly legal kidlet (he just turned 21) have an innate, almost genetic ability to tune out, turn off and simply hang. Not a care in the world. Only dreams of running through lush fields, only a day spent with Michael and Fiona; only the wondrous possibility of absolutely nothing at all to do. I would celebrate that.

I think people who are able to truly relax, which is ultimately what Justin is doing, are the lucky ones. They really know how to celebrate life for all its worth, especially the downtime. They know how to embrace the quiet. They understand why it’s so important to unplug. In that way, my kid is much, much smarter than I.  I’m envious. I need to do that.

Maybe I’ll start … someday really soon. Really. Honest. 

The art of sign language

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 28, 2011 11:12 PM

Maguire is mostly deaf. Occasionally he hears something very loud or very high pitched. Whistles and a sharp clap of the hands will get his attention, as will the opening of the cheese drawer which makes very little noise. He does have a finely attuned sense of smell; maybe that’s the deal. Since he’s been on prescription food, started when he was so sick a few weeks ago, he has also been able to hear the can opener, though only sometimes. It does have a slightly high-pitched whine/squeal. When he doesn’t hear it, within moments he saunters into the kitchen anyway. I think he smells it.

When he was young, he had quite the vocabulary. We lost track of the number of words he knew and understood. I know there are many people who believe that dogs only really understand tone of voice. Evidently I could say “good boy” in a gentle, loving voice and say the same thing in a nasty, yelling voice and he would get two different messages. Not that I would ever do that. And of course he would get two different messages! If I say ‘I love you’ to Kevin in a sweet voice, or I scream it at him, he gets two different messages, too. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand.

Now, when I say “good boy” to Maguire he just doesn’t hear it. We’ve tried getting him to read lips but he seems largely uninterested. He’ll open one eye to see what we’re doing if he senses us near and then close it nearly as quickly. He sees our lips moving but no words are coming out.

He must think we’re nuts.

So lately we’ve been teaching him sign language. If we’re outside, and he’s wandered into the neighbor’s yard, we clap once, sharp and loud. When that doesn’t work, we try again. Often by the fifth or sixth time, he’ll raise his head from whatever he’s sniffing, and look in our direction. That’s when we flip our fingers back onto our palms. That’s when he returns to his sniff. We clap again. This time, when we get his attention, we wave our entire arm to motion him back toward the house. He’ll look at us and sometimes begin to move, slowly, molasses that got stuck in the jar in the middle of January in British Columbia. Until he finds something else to sniff. Then the process begins again. Finally, we get fed up, often because we’re cold. OK. Maybe “we’re” not cold. I’M cold. I walk with great determination toward where my dog is standing. He senses movement. He casts an eyeball in my direction. I get closer, he casts both eyeballs. I get right up behind him and touch his back. He scoots. And stops. I touch again. I’m about to use my GOOD BOY nasty voice. Finally, he looks back at me. I point toward the front door and he begins to walk to it reluctantly.

Sign language for the hearing impaired is a phenomenal way to communicate. It’s like a ballet for the fingers. Its earliest origins can be traced to the 5th century BC when Socrates said: “If we hadn’t a voice or a tongue, and wanted to express things to one another, wouldn’t we try to make signs by moving our hands, head and the rest of our body…?” In the 2nd century, Judea said that a “deaf-mute can hold a conversation by means of gestures.” By 1620, a manual for teaching deaf people to speak with manual signs was published by Juan Pablo Bonet. From this manual, Charles-Michel de l’Épée created an equally manual alphabet. It’s a rich and complex language and one that can convey meaning by using space, two hands and the face and body. In many ways, it’s a better way of communicating than verbal speaking.

Sign language for dogs has become a better way of communicating of late, though in truth Maguire has long responded to hand signals. It’s just that before he lost his hearing we were able to communicate both verbally and with a well-placed get-over-here hand wave. Now, we rely solely on the get-over-here hand gesture followed by the “right now, dammit or else” frantic pulling of the air as if pulling the air toward us will somehow pull him as well.

Regardless, I’m glad there is communication, that the art of sign language, while not as exquisite as the real thing, exists between parents and their deaf vintage puppy. Talking is always worth celebrating.

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