Time for a Niner

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, September 28, 2011 10:44 PM

Those of you who know me know that I have several weaknesses. One is for my kid, of whom I’m so proud; one is for my vintage puppy, who makes me smile simply by existing. Another is my husband, most days. Other weaknesses include my closest friends and my wondrous family, mostly one in the same. I love to read and really love to write. I love my Patriots (even last weekend when Brady was intercepted 4 – !!!!!! – times. I digress) and Chicago and Tucson. I love pasta and just about anything made from or with a potato.

And I love wine, especially if it’s colored red.

The bigger, bolder and hairy the better. I like a red wine that is so deep and dense that it’s impossible for light to get through the liquid as it floats in a perfectly formed goblet. To swirl and sniff and sip a heavy red wine, like a Zaca Mesa Mesa Reserve Syrah from 2007 or a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon from virtually any year is to taste what heaven must be if I believed in heaven. Instead, I choose to believe in Bacchus the Roman god of wine and mayhem, probably song as well.

Bacchus is a liberator, a god whose wine, music and dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear to breakthrough the restraints imposed upon the minions. That would be us wine drinkers. Bacchus also has a cult, a cult of souls, and I’m a happy member. Now normally I’m mostly opposed to cults, for obvious reasons. Group thought and group belief bugs me. But a cult of souls committed to wine? That might be a cult I can remain a part of since I’ve obviously already joined.

One of our new favorite reds is just about anything by a Paso Robles winery called Niner, and especially anything from 2007. They have a kick-butt Cabernet Franc, Syrah and a decent Cab. They make a wine called Fog Dog, and another phenomenal red and our new favorite: Twisted Spur. This blend from what is essentially the Central Coast region of California is grown on a patch of land called Bootjack Ranch on the side of the Salinas River. It’s 125 acres of hearty red grapes like Syrah, Merlot, Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Twisted Spur is an exquisite blend of Merlot (59%), Cab Franc (27%), Syrah (12%) and Petite Syrah (2%), all blended and twisted together to form an absolutely exquisite wine. The spur, I suspect, is just a nice Western twist. Pun intended.

Tonight we popped a bottle to have with a lovely plate of pasta. Penne with a light cream sauce of parmesan, a touch of blue cheese, and sautéed mushrooms, onions, a little ham in olive oil and Marsala. I had a tough day, fighting with one of my projects with the project winning for a good part of the time. Then I went to a meeting for about three and a half hours. When I came back, my project decided to cooperate and the evening got better. The wine was the crown.

As I was writing this, Kevin said: “What’s the blend of the Spur?” I had literally just pulled up the website. He took a sip and smiled. “How do we continue to do that?” he asked. “Do what?” “Always be on the same page all the time.”

It’s called synergy, and like this fine wine, it gives our lives and our evenings flavor. 

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Tacking to port: a vintage puppy story

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 27, 2011 10:42 PM

The sea was quiet, nary a ripple in the green. The tops of the trees tussled a bit, enough to send big, loose leaves swirling to the ground. Birds took flight as a gust of wind swooped down and through. It was almost possible to see its invisible breath as it pushed toward the sea of grass below, changing the calm. He stood tall, staring out toward the horizon, feeling the wind in his pants – er, sails. He was the captain of his ship, the world was his oyster and he was sailing on the great Wiggin Street ocean.

Meet Captain Maguire. Like the great sea-farers from the Pequod and the Black Pearl, from the Orca and the S.S. Minnow, this captain stands tall. Well, sort of tall. He used to be taller. But his sails aren’t as full as they used to be; his pants are sagging.

[Sidebar: For those unfamiliar, Golden Retrievers and Australian Shepherds, like his Captain-self, have long fur on the back of their back legs. This is known as pants, and these pants swoosh when then walk, prance or when the wind hits. Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.]

When the captain tacks his sails, as he faces into the wind, he sets at an angle of 45º, and tacks a little to port. His right back leg doesn’t work as well as it used to; it drags a bit. It’s not as strong, it’s stiff, unsure, weak, so when he moves into the wind his ship goes to the left. If he moved a little faster, he’d be like a racecar driver, spinning around in circles caused by perpetual left-hand turns.

The captain stood in the front yard this afternoon, his nose to the wind, his ears back, his pants ready to push him forward. The squirrel hung from the branch above, his lookout. I think I saw him holding binoculars. First mate Kobe, next door, stood poised for orders (safely hidden behind the stone wall). He growled occasionally. Suddenly a big gray whale appeared, its tail propelling it forward through the sea –– never mind. False alarm. It was just a Ford Expedition.

Then, to the right or starboard, an armada, sailing toward him, fast, faster, fastest. He stood strong, eyes steely, legs firm, pants swaying, ready for battle. As the birds flew past him, he turned his nose to follow them. The squirrel screeched and ran up the mast to the crow’s nest to have a better view. The crow’s nest is the name of the lookout at the top of the main mast, lest you think there were going to be more squirrel wars.

Captain Maguire turned to look and as he did the wind came up again, filling his pants with enough air to move him forward, and so he moved toward Sam’s yard, still tacking to port, full steam ahead, ready for the day, ready for the sea, ready…. to pee.

Ahhhhhh.

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In which I try very hard to find something to celebrate about the fact that I had a little tiny touch of insomnia last night and I’m a little tired because of it

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 20, 2011 9:59 PM

I’m a good sleeper. I also like to sleep. I joke that I was born two weeks early and I’ve been trying, desperately, to catch up ever since. I figure if I try long enough, maybe I’ll get there. In some ways I hope I don’t because sleeping is one of those activities of daily living that I truly relish, much like a hot shower. Crawling into my bed at night, snuggling into the pillow top as the cool air from the open window washes over me… if heaven exits, that’s mine.

Occasionally I suffer from small bouts of insomnia. It’s very cruel. One of the cruelest things the fates can do to someone who loves to sleep. I’ve long known why sleep deprivation is a torture technique.

I had an episode last night and they’re almost always because of some sort of anxiety. Last night it was worry about things I needed to do that I hadn’t done, and money. Previously, sleepless or partially sleepless nights have been about things I need to do, and money. Sensing a pattern?

I get to sleep fine, but something wakes me up. Lately it’s his divine puppiness. Which is what happened last night. It was 3 o’clock and he stirred on the floor. I am now entirely in-tune to the dog’s nocturnal habits. He sighs and rolls, we’re OK. He coughs and fidgets and moans and cries and I know we could be either having a nightmare, in which case he pees on the carpet, or a seizure in which case he pees on the carpet while scaring the crap out of us.

Last night, he had a nightmare. I got onto the floor to calm him down and then climbed back into bed once that calming had occurred. He fell back to sleep immediately; I knew I was doomed as soon as I pulled the covers back up. My brain started to whir, so loudly I was concerned I’d wake up my slumbering my husband and my newly re-slumbering dog. I had to remember to email so and so, I had to finish that proposal, I needed to this and that and that and this and oh! I completely forgot about that. And then I had an idea for a website. Oh! And what about this idea for a monologue. I could do – wait! What about invoicing this month? Am I going to have my usual amount? Hey! I wonder if I’m losing my mind. Is that possible? Am I too young?

Zzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzz

Sorry. I nodded off there for a minute.

I finally got to sleep sometime around 5:15. At 5:18 my sister sent me a text message. I’m hoping it’s because she forgot about the 3-hour time difference. Otherwise, I’ll have to kill her. Regardless, I was awake again.

Insomnia affects up to 40 percent of all adults every year, with women being twice as likely as men to having difficulty falling and staying asleep. The falling part I’m good at; the staying, not so much. Over 70 million Americans suffer from sleep issues. 1 in 3 have insomnia at some point in their lives. I’ve had really bad insomnia where I couldn’t even get to sleep to begin with until sometime around 5 in the morning. That happened when we bought this house and we were selling the townhouse, by owner, by ourselves. Stress.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sorry! I did it again. It’s like narcolepsy around here.

I actually went to the doctor that time and he prescribed Ambien, a sleeping pill. Which scared me. He also told me that once we moved, I’d probably be fine. The night we moved in here, I slept like the proverbial puppy.

So tonight, I’m a little tired and draggy. I don’t like not sleeping, but since I have vowed to find good even in bad things, here’s what I think about not sleeping: it’s an opportunity to let my brain wander unencumbered by anything. There are no interruptions (vintage puppy notwithstanding), no email, no phone. It’s stream of consciousness at its most worthwhile. Sometimes I get my best ideas for stories, for headlines, for whatever when my brain is running at full tilt at 3:30 am. The night is quiet, nary a cricket speaks, the wind chimes are silent, the winds are still. I have my brain all to myself. I think that might be worth celebrating and I can only hope that toni-

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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Dogs in the 'hood

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 13, 2011 9:40 PM

Like many small neighborhoods in California, in the country, in the world, we have a lot of dogs. Big ones, small ones, puppies both new and vintage; dogs with lovely personalities and those who could use a lesson or two in manners and attitude. Dogs who bark, dogs who whine, ones who squeal and howl at the moon in the middle of the day, like the five little monsters who live on the corner and fight each other for window space. We fear for our ankles every time we pass by, but we still smile. We love dogs.

We’re also suckers for dogs. They bring instant smiles and a desire to crouch down for a quick scratch behind the ears. For the dogs, too. We’ve also been known to assist a dog in distress, like today, when as we rounded the corner of Wiggin and Pesaro, on our way down toward the park, we spotted a big black dog, standing in a front yard, no owner or even possible owner in sight.

A Maddie-like dog

I immediately pointed her out (the “her” being a fact we ascertained shortly thereafter). Kevin hadn’t seen her. I called to her quietly, walking up on the sidewalk as she watched me intently but not fearfully. She stood proudly, staring at me with her big brown eyes and her slightly pointed ears that curled over at the top. It was hot and she was panting. I crouched down and called to her again, and she continued to study me but didn’t move. Finally, she started walking toward the front door of the house. Kevin had forgotten his cell phone so I tossed him the key to our house so he could run back while I followed the dog. If the front door had been open, I wouldn’t have worried, but it wasn’t. The dog, with thick black fur that had been shaved and was now growing in, was standing on the front porch, her nose pushed against the door jam, willing the door to open. It didn’t. I walked up, reached down to pet the top of her head while simultaneously knocking on the door. No answer. I rang the doorbell. No answer. She had tags. Her name was Maddie, and she had a phone number. When Kevin returned we called it. I could hear it ringing inside the house but again, no answer. Maddie and I sat on the front porch while Kevin went around to the back of the house, through the gate, to make sure that a dog did, in fact, live there. He found a big water bowl and a dog toy. We filled the bowl, and left Maddie behind the closed gate.

I thought about her all day until her owner finally called to thank us profusely for helping her dog. She was surprised we even approached Maddie since she’s big and totally black and most people find that intimidating. Kevin laughed and said that we had one of those ourselves.

A Carter-like pup

Over the years, we’ve helped numerous dogs find their way back home. There was Charlie the schnauzer who used to show up in our front yard regularly. After the first few times, we discovered exactly where he lived, so we’d put a leash on him and walk him home, depositing him behind his gate and closing it securely. There was the Saturday morning when two gorgeous Huskies showed up in our front yard. We corralled them and put them in the back, called the number on their tags and their owner came within minutes. She had been out in the car, searching frantically. A little pug went by one day and Kevin, who had been in the kitchen, dashed outside and started down the street. I followed, wondering what was going on until I saw her. Penny. She was old, deaf, and partially blind. Kevin got there before I did, and as I was walking toward them, a woman in a dark blue Lexus RX330 pulled up next to me, frantic, asking if I’d seen a dog. I told her my husband had her around the corner. The woman was almost in tears as she thanked us.

One morning Kevin had gone off to Home Depot to get supplies for one of our countless DIY projects. It was early when he called me, practically in tears. There was a dog out on Lindero Canyon, a chocolate lab, and someone had hit it and driven off. He was with the dog. Could I bring every towel I could find. I threw everything into the car and drove off. Within minutes, I found him, with the dog and another woman who had stopped to help, another dog lover. The dog was bleeding but alive. A cyclist came by, and stopped; said some guy was up the street, calling for a dog. Pretty freaked out. He turned around and rode back to tell the guy we had his dog and were taking her to the vet. We pulled everything out of the back of Rover, all the wood and tools and left them on the side of the road. The woman said she’d watch our stuff until we got back. We loaded the dog into the back of the truck, I got in with her, my hand pushing on her wound, trying to stop the bleeding as Kevin raced toward one of the local vets. He went through the stoplight, horn blaring, hazards flashing until we got to the vet. The owner showed up moments later as the vet team was unloading the dog onto a stretcher. The gardeners had left the side gate open and Abby had bolted.

A short time late, the vet called to say Abby had made it through surgery. Helping her was one of our proudest moments here in the OP.

A Kobe-like dog

The dogs in the ‘hood are members of our community. There’s the big Akita, a gentle soul, in the cul de sac, and Kobe, the nutty wire-haired fox terrier mix next door. Across the street is Carter, next to her are two big loopy dogs who howl every time Jonathan and Tricia come home, and Griffy, the whippet who recently suffered a stroke in his spine. Mister Mister lives around the corner, as do the three Springer spaniels and the two Staffordshire boxers. There's Emily, the golden retriever, and the pit bull on the other corner. Gary's little dog and the new doberman/lab mix. There are mutts and purebreds, nice and mean, all with personalities, all with people who love them; all with gardeners who leave the gates open. Today and every day, we celebrate those dogs. But we are partial to one in particular.

Our Maguire, the neighborhood’s resident big dog

In ten years

by Lorin Michel Sunday, September 11, 2011 8:21 PM

In ten years, Kevin and I have raised Justin from a young child through the ravages of high school to be a college junior. We have helped Maguire reach vintage puppy status. We have grown our businesses and buried parents – my father, his mother – and grandparents. We have welcomed a new nephew, Caden, and watched – albeit long distance – as our niece and my goddaughter Shawn has grown from a toddler of two to a young lady of twelve. We have seen our oldest nephew marry and Kevin’s older siblings retire. In ten years, we have visited Napa Valley and Santa Ynez, our families in Chicago and New England; we have fallen in love with Tucson. We have rediscovered old friends, welcoming them back into our lives with joy; we have embraced existing friendships, becoming even closer than we thought possible. It is good.

We have created Fritini. We bought a motorcycle, then another and a third until we finally got it right. We have big Thanksgiving get-togethers, some years bigger than others, but everyone is invited, especially those who live far from family, or would simply rather be with friends. It’s a celebration we cherish every year.

We have said goodbye to Hogan and Rusty and Max and KJ and so many others. We have welcomed Lucky and Tommy and Pixel and Libby. We have joined animal rescue groups and supported other causes dear to our hearts. We have loved and lost, felt hopelessness and joy; we have lived.

In the next ten years, we will say goodbye to loved ones, we will grow ever closer to those most dear, we will try to be nicer, better, stronger, funnier. We will embrace challenges and change when we need to change because to remain stagnant is to wither. And we will not wither.

We will enjoy good wine and great friends. We will love.

Ten years ago, there was collective fear and sadness, a profound sense of loss. I didn’t expect this September 11th anniversary to affect me as it has but I find myself transported into the past even as I look with hope into the future. Ten years ago, we were paralyzed. Ten years from now, we’ll be in a yet a different place emotionally, physically.

With luck, we’ll be stronger. We’ll have more humor and less angst. We’ll have wonderful times together with good food because there are great recipes to try. Maybe we’ll be making wine. Wouldn’t that be something? With more luck, I’ll have written more books. I will have further developed my craft, my art. I will have helped others to do the same.

On this day, a day that until today, I thought wouldn’t bring me to my knees yet again, I celebrate my husband, my son, my dog, my family, my friends, my clients, my dreams and desires, my hopes, my successes, my failures. My good life.

Live life on purpose. Utilize full potential. Take responsibility for life. Live in the question. How can I do this better? How can I help change the world? How can I make a difference by making some noise?

Because “if you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”  

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That blur you see is a vintage puppy streaking through the house

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 21, 2011 10:41 PM

It happened so fast, we almost didn’t see it. A streak, a blur of fur that made loose papers fly, and the flower petals ruffle. It was Maguire, on fire, not literally of course. Faster than a speeding snail, more powerful than a king-size pillow, able to leap… well, not able to leap. But still, Super Puppy had made an appearance.

When you’re a vintage puppy, edging ever closer to 15 (that’s 105 in dog years), sometimes simply getting up off the floor without assistance can be a major source of celebration. Then there are days when there’s a whole new sense of purpose. He’s younger seemingly, his batteries have been recharged. He leaps in and out of the back door and fairly runs – runs! – toward the kitchen for a cookie. He’s a puppy on the move, ready to face the day, come what may. Which will undoubtedly be a nap, and soon.

This morning was such an episode. He woke up at 7, shook and waited for me to get up. Normally he starts toward the kitchen and I have to go after him, touch his back and then beckon for him to follow me so that I can let him out in the back yard. He’s still used to the front yard to pee; vintage habits diehard. But this morning, he was standing, facing the back door, ready. All I needed to do was slide open the door and out he bounced. I left it open so that he could return, which he did, continuing on his way to the kitchen for a bite to eat and a water slurp. I had drifted off to sleep again. It was Sunday morning, after all.

Next thing I knew, he was standing next to me as I slumbered peacefully. He moved his head up next to the bed, and sighed. I opened my eyes and smiled, there he was, my masked man. God, how I love that dog. I reached over and scratched his head and behind his ears. I pulled my hand back only to have his head move toward me again, nudging. More please. I scratched his chest, dared to pull my hand back and got the nudge again. This went on for at least five minutes, which, when you’re attempting to sleep in on a lazy Sunday, can be an awfully long time.

Finally, the need for him to nap won out.

But once we got up and it was cookie time, he was ready. The nap renewed his energy. He ran toward the back of the house as Kevin made his way from the kitchen to the slider with bait in hand, otherwise known as a milkbone. And then, when he came back in, leaping over the slip lip of the slider, he took off. Running! Running!

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His front paws were flapping and his front legs were pumping. The rear legs… not so much. But he managed a fast skip. He bounded into the kitchen, trotting, bouncing, enjoying his Sunday morning. He spun around, lapped up some water, and paced back and forth as I cooked breakfast, waiting patiently for his plate. Which he received. Scrambled eggs and a piece of turkey bacon, cooked crisp just like dad’s.

Then it was back to nap-ville. Sprawled on the floor, drooling and snoring, occasionally chasing butterflies or cats in his dreams, remembering what it was like to be a puppy on a mission, a dog on the move, a boy who’s got it going on. Ready to take on the world, ready to keep the world safe from absolutely nothing. Ready for anything that comes his way.

Especially another nap.

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The story of a vintage puppy and his pig

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

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

We started buying plush toys.

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

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

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

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

Maguire and his pig, on his rug, August 11

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

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

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

It was puppy love.

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Squirrel wars: Battle for the backyard

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

Day 13. The standoff continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage, not old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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live out loud

The night stalker: a vintage puppy story

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has become Maguire, the Night Stalker.

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

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