Trippin'

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 30, 2011 10:34 PM

Tomorrow morning at 10 am, I will lift-off from Los Angeles International airport, whose code is known world-wide as LAX, and travel via a Boeing 737-300 first to Chicago where we will land and I will not de-plane, then lift-off again for Baltimore. If all goes according to plan, I will arrive at approximately 7:15 pm and my friend Pam will be waiting.

Pam and I haven’t seen each other in over 20 years. A year and a half ago, we re-connected on Facebook. We exchanged emails and then decided to talk. Our first conversation was 5 hours. It was fabulous, and solidified a friendship that began in our first year of high school but became sporadic because my family moved away and we saw each other only occasionally for several years after. Twenty plus years later, we seemed to have grown in the same trajectory. We like the same things, we think the same way, we have the same sense of humor. Our conversations are relaxed and easy, flowing. It’s really amazing and I’m equal parts excited and apprehensive.

I’ll spend one night with Pam and then travel up to Manchester, New Hampshire where my mother will pick me up on Saturday night. On Sunday, we’ll celebrate my niece’s 12th birthday; on Monday my mother’s 70th birthday. It’s a good weekend to travel back.

Still, I’ll miss my men, Kevin and Maguire. (Justin is in New York for the summer so he’s long been in the ‘miss’ category.) Tonight, I pulled my suitcase from the laundry room, trying to be quiet. I didn’t want to freak out Maguire, though he can’t hear anyway. Still, he heard me, or sensed what I was doing. I carried the smaller of my wheeled-cases toward the bedroom, and he was on high-alert. Mom? Are you going somewhere? Why yes, honey bear; I am. But mom… how can you leave me? Complete with the big bear face and the perky ears.

It’s hard to explain to a hearing-challenged vintage puppy that mom will be gone for a few days. He wants to understand but all he sees is the suitcase. His ears droop.

Tomorrow what I’ll see first is the back of my eyelids, followed by the rising sun and a shiny airplane that will transport me to the other side of the country within hours. It’s always somewhat amazing to me.

Tomorrow I will see my friend. Saturday I will see my family. Tuesday I will see my husband and my dog.

I celebrate them all; I love them all. I wish all a happy independence day weekend.

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The ritual of the cookie

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 29, 2011 10:21 PM

Dogs, like kids, have a routine. If you stray from the routine, they get confused and stressed. Accidents happen. It is always best to stay on point, and do things at the same time each day in the same way. This keeps everyone happy and adds a nice cadence to what can otherwise be a hectic existence. Knowing, for instance, that the dog expects his nightly walk at 7 o’clock each night gives us a nice bookend to the 3:30 am wake up call that has become the new routine. When you have a vintage puppy like Maguire, new routines are introduced by necessity.

But today, I’m celebrating the routines we have had since he was a shiny, new puppy. I speak of the morning cookie.

Each day, we rise when the dog does, now more to protect the floor than anything else. He used to sleep in; no longer. He wakes, shakes and walks stiffly into the living room where he waits patiently for maybe 10 seconds. This is our window of opportunity. We must get to him and fast. We do, or more often, Kevin does. I handle the night shift.

He goes out into the front yard to pee because that’s the routine; we do not pee in the back yard. Somehow that is unseemly first thing in the morning. We like to pee where the world can see us as they’re going to school, going to work, going for a run, beginning their day. We don’t dawdle in the morning because as soon as the relief is complete, the race is on to get from the front door to the back door, him moving a bit more slowly than he used to, but still scuttling across the floor, trailing drool behind him all because of the ritual of the cookie. And because Kevin or I is following close at paw, a big milkbone in our grasp. He goes out onto the patio, pivots, grabs the cookie from our hand and takes it out into the yard. It’s always to the same place. He drops the bone onto the grass and hunkers over it, protecting it from predators like his parents, because we obviously want to take it away from him. We obviously want it for ourselves. Maybe we want to dunk it in our morning coffee! He shifts his head slightly to the right because that’s where the attack will come from, and bares his teeth. Then the growling begins, the snarling commences, the protective armor descends. He talks some smack.

Do. Not. Come closer, parental unit. I will chomp on you instead of this cookie.

Each night, we all go for a walk. Maguire’s internal alarm clock goes off at 7 and the nighttime dance begins, jazz feet on the floor. We get him ready and soon we’re strolling through the neighborhood, sniffing each blade of grass, huffing and puffing at each passing dog, ignoring each passing person. Clarification: We stroll, he sniffs, huffs and puffs. When we get back to the house, and release him from his harness, he stands on the rug outside of the kitchen, watching, ears at attention, waiting. I go to the cookie door, the area in the pantry where we keep the dog treats, grab half a cookie, and off we race again to the back door for more growling, snarling, the occasional bark, and munching.

It’s our routine, our lives and our ritual, for fourteen and a half years. I celebrate the growl every day.

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What happens on date night ends up as a blog post

by Lorin Michel Friday, June 24, 2011 11:42 PM

My husband and I go out on a date on Thursday nights. It’s our way of reconnecting at the end of the week, of spending time together doing something we both really enjoy. We get to talk, and laugh, tell stories, sometimes complain. Most importantly, we’re not working.

Last night was date night and we have both had just a horrendous week of work. Too much to do with much of it not going right and thus not getting done. I’ve also been in several meetings and any time I’m not in my office, I’m not really working. While I’m getting more work to do – always a good thing – having to fight traffic to get somewhere, meet, and fight traffic to get back is not productive.

Kevin had a number of deadlines that weren’t being met because his programmers were late on site development and that meant clients were going to be unhappy. Maguire has been a little under the weather. We were both a little down. We thought about not going. But ultimately decided to go anyway just to get out of our space.

I’m so glad we did. We went to The Wineyard, a little wine tasting place in Thousand Oaks where they have vineyard specific tastings on Thursday night. Often the winemaker is there so we can ask questions and learn about a particular vintner’s thoughts as to how he or she makes wine. Last night, the tasting was Boeger, a little winery northeast of Sacramento on the way to Lake Tahoe. They tasted four reds ranging from a Barbera to a Primitivo to a Zinfandel to a Syrah. Interestingly the Primitivo is actually a zinfandel vine from Italy but it’s processed differently and tastes nothing like a California zin.

As we were sitting at a pub table near one of the windows I happened to notice a black BMW with a vanity plate. I said to Kevin I thought I recognized the plate but I couldn’t place it. There weren’t a lot of people there last night; usually it’s packed. Kevin ventured over to the counter to get some bread and cheese and when he came back to the table he informed me that there was a lady selling jewelry and that I should go see if anything struck my fancy. It was mostly silver and some pieces were very cool. I decided I really liked a bracelet and my husband promptly bought it for me, along with a pair of earrings. I was feeling special.

The people at the table beside us got up to leave and must have heard us talking. They stopped by and we struck up a conversation about wineries and how fabulous it is when you can go to new places and drop someone’s name to get specialized treatment. Often when you do this, especially if you know about wine, suddenly the person who’s pouring the tastings will reach under the counter and pull something out they reserve for true wine lovers and connoisseurs. The man we were talking to introduced himself, gave us his card and told us to use his name at several local places we hadn’t yet been to, particularly a place up in Lompoc, north of Santa Barbara, called the Wine Ghetto. We love it already because of the name. This man and his wife looked so familiar to me. They said their goodbyes and soon we saw them get into the black BMW with the familiar license plate. We finally realized that we knew them from the ‘hood here in Oak Park, and that we had first “met” them when they stopped at one of our garage sales several years ago. The guy at one point was even interested in hiring Kevin to build his website.

Small world.

The lady from the jewelry table stopped by with a business card and we talked to her a bit. Turns out she’s friends with one of our neighbors across the street. It was like OP-neighbor night at The Wineyard.

Came home and Kevin’s developer who had been horrifically late on a project called just before 11 to announce that he had made tremendous progress and was close to being finished. Crisis averted.

Mark Twain once said: “Do something everyday that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.” Last night we went out even when we didn’t want to and it ended up being one of our best date nights ever sharing stories with new people and just enjoying each other’s company.

Tonight friends will be arriving shortly and we’ll celebrate the end of a long and stressful week with good food and yes, more wine. Next Friday, I’ll be in Maryland, celebrating with a friend I haven’t seen in 20 years. Kevin asked me today if we’d recognize each other. I have no doubts whatsoever. True friendships transcend time and space, and I am blessed to have several friends – including my husband – who do just that.

Welcome to the weekend. Make it a good one.

Walkin' after midnight: A vintage puppy tale

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 20, 2011 10:35 PM

It happens nearly every night. As darkness descends and all the day creatures snuggle down into nests, dens and beds, the night warrior emerges. Fearless and possessed of a vision not known to mere mortals, this warrior roams the hallowed halls and walkways, searching for predators, searching for prey, searching for the meaning of it all. Searching for the perfect tail.

I speak of course, of the supreme vintage puppy, the commanding dog squire known as Maguire Michel.

Every night, as Kevin and I get into bed, Maguire rambles through the house into the kitchen were he has a little snack followed by much slurping of water, most of which is dispersed onto the tile floor. He then saunters back into the bedroom, rams his bed with his head a few times, wipes his whispers on the sides of said bed and settles down in front of the open window to feel the breeze and the night ruffle through his fur. He is content. For about three and a half hours.

At about 3 am, he begins making slurping and munching sounds in his sleep. This apparently wakes him – as well as his parents – up. He then rises, shakes everything back into place, including his dog tags which sound like the equivalent of a marching band at that hour, and proceeds to leave the bedroom on patrol. We have never quite been able to figure out what he’s looking for, if he’s in fact searching for anything. Kevin is convinced that Maguire is actually the reincarnation of my beloved Tori Lynn, my beautiful gray tortoise cat whom I lost to cancer in 1995 when she was just 10. She stayed with me through my divorce, and through my subsequent dating years before I met Kevin. I like to think that she stayed until she knew it was OK for her to go.

Kevin didn’t want to get another cat, and since we both loved dogs, we decided to get a slightly older female, adopted from the local animal shelter. We ended up with an eight-week-old male puppy. From the beginning he had nocturnal tendencies, cat-like grace and night vision. Hence the Maguire-as-Tori scenario.

Last night he rose just before 3, and with his nimble cat feet, he proceeded to prance about the house. He pranced to the kitchen for a bite and a slop, then back into the bedroom, then once again out into the living room where he began pacing back and forth, huffing and puffing. Eventually Kevin got up at around 3:10, thinking that maybe if he took Maguire outside, it would calm him down.

It didn’t.

He proceeded to prance and huff and grunt and puff. He came into the bedroom and started into the bathroom. He came back out, did a turn or two around the bedroom again, then went back into the bathroom before backing out one more time. Kevin and I were awake the whole time, waiting for him to settle down and go back to sleep. The minutes became a half hour. Maguire went into the bathroom again and stood there in the dark, in front of the mirror, something obviously on his mind.

Then, out of the night came my husband’s voice, speaking as Maguire: “Does this fur make me look fat?”

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I’m celebrating a rollicking laugh at 3:33 am, and the fact that, after being assured he was still his svelte self, Maguire finally settled down and went back to sleep. For another three hours anyway.

In search of the perfect yawn

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 14, 2011 8:38 PM

My husband wakes up yawning almost every day. I wake up stretching. The dog does both. We’re quite the threesome as we stumble around in the morning in search of coffee. Maguire yawns nearly all the time. Every time he wakes up, he yawns, stretching his jaws open so wide it seems we can see all the way through to his tail. Sometimes he doesn’t even bother to lift his head up from where he lays, prone on the carpet or the hardwood. He just opens wide and snaps shut.

Kevin’s yawns aren’t nearly as cavernous though they make his eyes water and always elicit a resounding harrumph after his jaws close. I only tend to yawn when I’m excruciatingly tired and it’s often accompanied by a stretch. A good old fashioned, nearly dislocate my shoulders as I reach for the moon kind of stretch. It feels so good to stretch like that; it makes me understand completely why animals do it all the time. A stretch with muscles stretched tight until it’s close to painful; release.

I always thought that yawns happened because we’re tired, but actually that’s just a theory which postulates that our bodies are taking in less oxygen because our breathing has slowed and yawning supposedly helps us bring more oxygen in while moving carbon dioxide out. Another theory states that yawning stretches the lungs and the lung tissue, keeping them lubricated and healthy. It also flexes muscles and joints, increases heart rate slightly and helps the yawner feel more awake. Unless it’s Maguire.

Maybe yawning is protective, keeping the lungs from collapsing. Maybe it controls brain temperature. In fact, in 2007, University of Albany researchers proposed that yawning may help keep the brain cool, important because our brains operate best when kept in a narrow temperature range. Other researchers have studied yawning for its contagious effect. Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance humanist, priest and theologian wrote that “one man’s yawning makes another yawn.” He made this observation in 1508. The French even created a proverb for it: Un bon bâilleur en fait bâillier deux. Roughly translated it means “one good gaper makes two others gape.”

So why does Kevin yawning make me stretch and sometimes eventually yawn? Supposedly because of the mirror neurons in my frontal cortex. These neurons are the driving force behind imitation and as we all know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But lest you doubt my research, even the Mythbusters on The Discovery Channel tested the concept and came away with the conclusion that yawning is, indeed, contagious.

Of course there are certain cultures that frown upon the yawn. Ancient Greeks and Mayans believed that yawning was a sign of a person’s soul trying to escape the body. Others believed that yawning was from the devil himself. Some thought it carried plague. Even the father of our country, George Washington believed that yawning, especially in public, was at the very least a faux pas, saying: “If you Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkerchief or Hand before your face and turn aside.”

A good yawn along with a good stretch, known incidentally as pandiculation, is one of the greatest sensual pleasures we mammals have. It’s why dogs, cats, lions, tigers and bears, humans and chimpanzees yawn at any given time. It’s exquisitely easy, can be done almost anywhere without fear of censure, it makes others yawn right along with you, and it just feels great. That alone makes it nearly perfect and something to celebrate.

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Maguire versus the squirrel

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 9, 2011 10:30 PM

The first time it happened was several years ago. I was in my office; Kevin was in his studio. Maguire, much younger then, was patrolling the back yard. It was mid-morning. Suddenly the quiet burst open with the sound of a snarling squirrel, screeching, and a snarling dog, growling and barking. Rrrr, eeeee, grrrr. Ruff!

I came downstairs from the loft, Kevin had already come out of his studio. He was standing on the walkway, one hand shoved into his pocket, the other holding his half full coffee mug. He was smiling, amused at the scene in front of him. I walked over to the slider and behold: one crazed dog, on his hind legs, reaching desperately for the trees where one teasing squirrel sat perched on a branch, back feet curled around to leave the front feet/paws free to gesture and irritate. It reached down out of the tree, dressed in its little squirrel fur, its thick, bushy tail sticking straight up into the leaves as it yelled at the helpless big dog below.

Maguire danced and pranced, bouncing around, huffing and puffing, pawing at the air, his head back, eyes focused on the branch above, arguing back. They barked at each other for at least 15 minutes, the squirrel taunting the big dog below, daring Maguire to climb up and get him.

Carrie Bradshaw, the prolific heroine of Sex and the City, once went camping with her boyfriend Aiden. For anyone who ever watched Sex and the City, it was a known fact that Carrie was not a camper. I suspect that her idea of camping consisted of a four-star instead of a five-star hotel. But she was trying to fit into his world so she journeyed from New York to somewhere outside of New York. She was in the kitchen when she spotted a squirrel and freaked out, thinking it was a rat. Aiden told her the squirrel was a friend. Her response: “You can’t be friends with a squirrel. A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit.”

She’s right. They do sport a cute little outfit with a fur coat and a lovely muff-like tail. They also have little beady eyes, like a rat. But they’re more brazen than rats, more optimistic. They sit out in the open, unlike rats that hide in the shadows. And they yell. Loudly.

Maguire is older now, but he and the squirrel still go at it. Today, the cuter rat was in the tree in the front yard, hanging off of the trunk, defying gravity, and Maguire was in the front window. He doesn’t hear so well anymore, but his eyesight is fine. He caught a glimpse of the squirrel and he started to dance, fuss and fume; huff and puff. He was going to get that squirrel, once and for all.

It didn’t seem to occur to him that the squirrel was outside. He put his head down and started to back out of the kitchen, his eyes never leaving the tree, and then –

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Squirrel!

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