The birth of a tradition

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 18, 2017 10:05 PM

When Justin was little, we created shortcut phrases to communicate quickly and relatively painlessly. Like most kids, we couldn’t just spring the idea of bed on him. We had to work our way up to it. So we invented “brush and flush,” a handy phrase that allowed us to tell him when he was going to have to go bed. We’d start it around half an hour before he actually needed to go to bed. It went something like this:

“Honey? Why don’t you go up and brush and flush before the show starts?” And he’d dutifully trudge up the stairs to brush his teeth and pee before coming back down to watch a bit more TV. From there we’d count down commercial breaks. “20 minutes.” “10 more minutes.” “Ok. Time for bed.”

Eventually, we shortened the “why don’t you …” to simply “brush and flush.” Short, sweet, to the point. Plus it rhymed. 

We were very proud of our alliteration, and it worked well for a lot of years. We also added other shorthand communiques as Justin got older, like “PR” for personal responsibility. But the brush and flush stayed. Kevin and I still use it sometimes between us, which is kind of funny when you think about it since we don’t have to give ourselves a countdown to bedtime. We can just, you know, go. And usually we want to go because we’re exhausted as opposed to Justin (and every other kid on the planet) who never wanted to go, not when he was little.

Justin is home visiting for five weeks. He got laid off from his job which sounds worse than it is because he’ll be rehired in five weeks. The entertainment industry is weird that way. They don’t have paid vacations. When you’re not working, you’re laid off. He just wrapped a 10 month Japan–Europe gig and now they’re on hiatus until Australia at the end of May. 

Somehow “brush and flush” came up. Maybe because we were all finishing up for the evening and I laughed and said “OK everybody. Let’s brush and flush.” Both of my boys laughed, and Justin said that he actually uses the “brush and flush” line with his girlfriend. And that they both laugh about it all the time. 

This is how traditions are born, how things are passed down from one generation to another. We all carry things from our childhoods, both good and bad, things that we learned from our parents that became how we did things as adults. A minor example: I always remember how my mother taught me to fold bath towels. It seems stupid and unnecessary, but she was very particular about it. If they weren’t folded correctly, she redid them. Now I can’t fold a towel any other way than how she showed me years ago when I was a kid. If Kevin folds one differently, when he leaves the room, I refold it.

Is that a tradition? Or is that just me being anal retentive? Either way, the idea of something I learned in childhood staying with me this long is cause for celebration.


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My husband's shorts

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 15, 2017 10:12 PM

We sold our house in Oak Park in July 2013 which meant that we were actually and finally going to move to Tucson, something we'd dreamed of doing since we bought our property in 2010. There was one issue: we had dirt but no place to live. And we had a month to get out of our house.

We booked a flight to Tucson for the following Saturday morning. And that's where it all started to go wrong. We got to the airport and waited at the gate. We were delayed. And then they changed gates and terminals. We dutifully followed the herd and waited some more. Finally they cancelled the flight. We scrambled to find something else but nothing was going to Tucson. We found a flight to Phoenix, and decided we'd do that and then drive the two hours.

We were supposed to meet our real estate agent/friend at 10 am. She had a bunch of interim places for us to look at where we could move and live while the house was being built. We finally got to her at 2:30. We had lost four plus hours, hours we needed that American Airlines stole.

We went to look at 13 houses. They were all fine, all in the price range but nothing seemed right. After leaving Stephanie and driving back to the Westward Look, where we were staying, we were quiet at first. Then we started to talk and then we started to fight. We weren't finding anything. Our day had been blown up, we were stressed and tired and hated our beloved Tucson.

The hotel had changed from our previous visits. It had been purchased by a big chain – I think Wyndham – and it had transformed from quaint to ordinary. Even the rooms seemed less charming. We went to the restaurant and ordered salads and a bottle of wine. The waitress who took our order had one tooth. There was a party going on in the bar, and it was rowdy. We ate a bit of our salads, then took our bottle of wine and went back to our room.

It was probably 9:30 by then. The black sky was lit up by lighting in the distance. We could smell rain. We hadn’t planned on being there long, literally just overnight, leaving early the next morning, so we hadn’t brought much with us. We stripped off the clothes that had become glued to us in the heat and disaster of the day. I pulled on a clean t-shirt, but hadn’t brought anything to lounge in. Luckily, we’d brought several pairs of shorts and boxers for Kevin – I have no idea why. I pulled on a pair of his boxers, grabbed the bottle and we went out onto the balcony to watch the sky, and wonder if we were about to make the biggest mistake of our lives. Both of us were wearing his shorts. 

Sitting in the cooling desert night, sipping a decent though not fabulous wine, we came to the conclusion that the reason we hadn’t liked anything was because none of the houses we’d looked at during the day were better than the house we were leaving. And while it was only going to be temporary, while our dream house was built, and even though they were all in the price range we’d requested, psychologically it bothered us that we were moving “down” in the world. 

The next morning, Kevin got up and went to the business center of the hotel, looked up rentals rather than places to buy, and we went and looked at several. One of them was perfect. Bigger than what we were leaving, relatively new, and for a rental price about what we paid in mortgage in Oak Park. This allowed us to keep all of the money we were going to invest in a temporary home and ultimately put it toward our eventual home. The trip was saved, our faith was restored. We caught a flight on that Sunday afternoon, and flew home to continue packing. 

I thought of that horrible weekend this morning when I finally got up. I’ve been burning the proverbial candle at both ends and at the nubs. We had company last night for sunset and tapas. Justin is home. I’m exhausted. Kevin let me sleep later than I had requested. He made an executive decision he told me once I finally got up. 

He and Justin had been on the deck having coffee and he must have seen me stirring. He came into the bedroom with a cup of a coffee as I was trying desperately to find a pair of loose, sloppy shorts to put on. Morning shorts. Everything was in the hamper reminding me that I needed to do laundry.

He went into the closet and grabbed a pair of his, and handed them to me. Big, sloppy, comfortable. And perfect.

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by Lorin Michel Friday, April 14, 2017 9:48 PM

Justin is home. He got in late last night and has been regaling us with tales from the road for a good part of the day, or at least when I can get my butt out of my office for a cup of coffee, a bit of lunch. He spent nearly three months in Japan before traveling to Europe where he spent another six and a half. We asked him what his favorite place was, or if it was too soon to know. Without hesitation he said Japan. This didn’t surprise Kevin and I. Justin has had a symbiotic relationship with Japan since he was little and started collecting Pokemon cards. We still have a full set of the original cards, all first editions. 

He loved the culture, the people, the food, even when he couldn’t get a piece of cheese, or a cup of coffee. He felt at home there. I get it. It’s much how I felt when I traveled west. I knew it was where I belonged. 

I went to Japan years ago, and didn’t like it. I had no affinity for it. But I appreciate and applaud his love of the place. Maybe it is because I understand the draw of another place, far from home. Maybe it’s because we know that he knows his own heart.

One of the things he loved most were the hot spring baths. We haven’t ever really indulged in something like that though from the pictures he showed us, they looked gorgeous. Even if we had the opportunity, I’m not sure we’d do it. It’s not really our thing. Neither of us is big on baths. 

But I just came across something that may change my mind. According to a new study, dipping into a hot bath burns as many calories as a 30-minute walk. It has something to do with the physiologic effects of heat exposure on the body. The researchers set out to see how exposure to heat can alter the molecules in the body. They had 14 men take hour-long baths in water at 104 degrees, which burned about 61 calories more than if they’d been sitting in a room that was 98.6 degrees. They then had the men exercise on a bike for an hour and they burned between 515 and 597. 

But 61 calories is nothing to sneeze at. It’s also, evidently, the amount of calories that you burn when you go for a walk, albeit probably not a very brisk one. 

The point of the study, interestingly, wasn’t about the amount of calories burned but rather the fact that counting calories is ridiculous. I’m not a calorie counter though I do admit to looking at labels on foods to see how many calories, how much fat and from which group, how many carbs, etc. But I long ago came to the realization that calories are like just about everything else. They’re different for different reasons for different people, based on metabolism, and genetics. And whatever. 

I exercise. I try to eat right. I don’t take baths. And today I feel a little vindicated. Because it’s not about how many calories are burned.

Because ultimately, what matters is… my kid is home and he’s happy and he loves hot springs and Japan. Burning calories doesn’t mean a damn thing if you don’t have that.

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Say cheese

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 12, 2017 10:21 PM

Back somewhere around the time that time began and Romans started writing cookbooks they included a lovely little dish that seemed impossibly easy to concoct. Take two pieces of bread and slap some cheese between. Eat. Then, sometime in the distant future, some industrious body looked at those pieces of bread and thought “hmmmm. Wonder what it would taste like toasted?” Thus the first grilled cheese sandwich was born. 

Before the 1960s, the gooey delicacy was called toasted cheese or melted cheese. As early as 1902, a recipe for a “Melted Cheese,” designed to be cooked in a hot oven, appeared in Sarah Tyson Rorer’s Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book; a recipe published in 1929 in Florence A. Cowles’ Seven Hundred Sandwiches called to broil the ingredients to make “Toasted Cheese.” “Toasted Sandwich,” published in 1939 in The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, encouraged the ingredients to be broiled or even — gasp! — sauteed in a frying pan coated with butter. 

Initially served as an open face sandwich with grated American cheese, once the Great Depression began, it became a mainstay of the American Diet. People couldn’t afford much but they could afford an inexpensive loaf of bread and cheap cheese. The sandwich also provided enough nutrition to keep stomachs filled and bodies somewhat nutritionized. 

Then came World War II, and the grilled cheese became a favorite of the Allied armed forces. School cafeterias began serving them soon after, and housewives looking to provide quick easy meals put them on plates in front of their families.

In the 1953 edition of The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer wrote that bread and cheese should be heated in a commercial waffle iron. She listed it as an easy meal for even “the maidless host” to prepare. Maidless. The horror!

Today, grilled cheese sandwiches remain a necessity for just about everyone, except, naturally, those who are vegan. Upscale restaurants serve upscale versions, using different types of cheese, including blue, and adding vegetables and other condiments. Most kids love grilled cheese; most adults do, too, making it one of those rare cross over meals. Serve one up for lunch with a bowl of tomato soup and it remains a crowd pleaser. Slip a couple of slices of tomato between the cheese before grilling, and it’s even better, maybe because it sounds healthier.

When Justin was little, his diet consisted of cheese pizza, mac n’ cheese, cheeseburgers, and grilled cheese. If you’ve ever had kids, this is a completely normal menu. He also liked chicken fingers and corn dogs and French fries. His menu has evolved a bit now that he’s 26, thankfully. I know he still enjoys a good grilled cheese though, especially the French version, the croque monsieur which come with ham,and I expect I’ll be making them a few times in the next five weeks since he’s coming home from the tour tomorrow night.

Today is National Grilled Cheese Day. April 12. It’s an international meal. In addition to the Croque Monsieur of France, you can also indulge in Bauru in Brazil, or the Bombay Masala Cheese Toast Sandwich in Mumbai, the Arepa de Queso in Venezuela, a Cuban from Cuba, a Mexican Quesedilla, a South African Braaibroodjie, and the ever popular Vegemite Grilled Cheese in Australia. In our house, we like to grill fresh sourdough bread and cheddar cheese, or an open-faced brie. Then again, sometimes, we like American cheese, or maybe Swiss, or both. Marble rye with gouda and blue cheese. Or …

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A flare for color

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 11, 2017 10:36 PM

According to a study conducted by a supplier for companies like Fruit of the Loom, Gildan and American Apparel, black is the color that most people choose when wearing to impress or reassure. It’s what people wear to exude confidence, intelligence and sexiness. It’s seen as serious and reliable by 64% of the men surveyed and 50% of the women.

Setting aside the fact that someone thought it was important enough to conduct a study on something like this, there are certain truths about wearing black as a color. It can be layered endlessly. You never have to worry about what you’ll be wearing anywhere. Should anything get accidentally spilled, nothing shows. It makes it very easy to pack. The downside is that it’s impossible to hide the fact that you have a pet. 

I am a big fan of black. I wear it a lot. Like the above paragraph, I find it easy to pack if everything is a variation on black. I can wear that with this and this with that and I’m very happy. Black includes dark gray, too. Sometimes it can include a lighter shade of gray as long as it all matches. When I go out, I wear black. When I go to a wedding, I wear black. I’m wearing black as I write this blog. 

This is not to say that I don’t love color. I’m particularly fond of earthy tones. Rusts, golds, browns. My house is awash in these colors. The floor is a dance of taupe and rust and charcoal. The stone in the pillars and fireplace is a mix of orange and gold and black and gray and brown. The exterior color is an earthy brown; the pavers are desert brown; the garage doors are rusted metal. While nothing in or out of the house could be construed as bright or flashy, it’s still color. 

We look at our neighbors and in their backyards, bougainvillea is bright, prolific. Fluorescent pink and orange bursts out. It’s glorious. Last Friday night, we went to our friends’ house for an impromptu barbecue. They do that a lot. It’s so different than what we’ve been used to in California where everything is planned weeks in advance just so people can figure out which way to go in order to get there. Here, we’re all so close, it doesn’t matter. Their backyard is heavily populated with desert plants and incredible color. It’s stunning. It made us realize we needed a flair of our own.

So on Saturday, we went to our local nursery and bought some orange. This orange comes in the lovely form of solar flares. 

The solar flare shrub sports gorgeous orange flowers all spring and through summer. It grows to be about six feet high, and loves the sun, the wind, the moon and the stars

Naturally we put it on our deck, which we have come to realize, is our backyard. Because of where the house is located, because of the steepness of the hill, we don’t have anything traditional, like a yard. So our deck, which cantilevers out over the desert, is what we have. And that’s where our orange flare of color resides.

Black may be confident and sexy. It may be accepted anywhere, anytime. But a little orange this way comes and it’s a good thing.  

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Time enough and then

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 8, 2017 8:55 PM

Last night I got run over by a truck with the license plate KJM 1954. Allow me to explain. Our neighbors had an impromptu BBQ and invited us down. It was casual. They were just going to throw some chicken and steaks on the grill, maybe boil some corn on the cob. I said I'd bring a salad. We also brought some wine. We arrived at around 6:30, just in time for sunset. We drank, we laughed, we ate, we drank some more.

This week, the roads in our neighborhood received a re-sealing. The board had decided to do something more elaborate than normal sealing because we're trying to make our roads last a bit longer before we have to do a complete redo. The roads went down in approximately 1998. Nearly 20 years later, they're not in horrific shape, but they aren't great. From Wednesday through late yesterday afternoon, Kevin worked with the asphalt company to ensure that the roads were all resealed beautifully.

He loves this stuff, my husband does. I remarked at one point that he should have been a contractor. For three mornings, he woke up early, donned his wide-brimmed hat, climbed into his Classic and zoomed to the front gate to make sure the gates were open. Then he'd spend time with the workers, showing them where they should be, driving the property to see what had been done, what was fine, what needed additional sealing. He was in his element. 

But by last night, he was toasted. Or as I like to say, toast that had been left in the toaster just a little too long. Off we went to the Roeslys for a Friday night soirée, and by about 9:30 I could tell that my little piece of toast was now completely burnt. I kept my hand on his arm, squeezing to make sure he didn't fall asleep since I thought that might be considered rude. When he does it at home, it's no big deal. But out in public, well – it might be frowned upon, even amongst friends.

By 10 o'clock I'd persuaded him to return home. I piled him into the Sport, climbed behind the wheel and off we went, up the driveway, around the cul de sac and then right up our road. It took us probably less than a minute. Once home, I poured him into the house and into bed. I did a bit of surfing and finding nothing worth watching and generally being tired myself, finally turned the TV off around 10:45. 

At 1:35, I woke up. I have no idea why. But Kevin wasn't in bed. I listened, and didn't hear anything. I called out – "honey?" Nothing. I got up and started through the house, calling his name. Still nothing. Then I started to panic. I knew he was in the house, but I figured I'd find him on the floor somewhere. Luckily, where I found him was asleep on the bed in the guest room. Tucked under the throw, one of the decorative pillows pulled close under his head. I gently woke him up, listened as he talked complete nonsense, and convinced him to come to bed. Where he snored and because I didn't want to wake him up, I listened for at least an hour and a half before exhaustion got the best of me and I finally fell asleep, fitfully. 

The poor guy. He was so spent, he had nothing left to give and yet his mind, playing tricks on him, compelled him to keep going, keep moving. 

He's amazing, my husband. He's conscientious, dedicated, focused. Everyone in the neighborhood just loves him and regularly gushes over what has happened since he managed to get the previous troll removed from the board. Now no one person is in charge. The three board members share responsibilities and they're getting things done. The amount that they've accomplished, from getting the lights at the front entrance working, to installing a new package mailbox, to weed control and general landscaping maintenance to now having the road done... everyone has noticed and everyone is thrilled. While they're all equal partners in making decisions, it's my husband who spearheads it all, who meets with contractors, who is completely engaged in the process, sometimes to the detriment of real work. But he loves it; he sees the progress. And it's noticed. It's recognized. It's rewarded.

Today, I've been just this side of zombie. Exhausted, not quite able to focus on anything worthwhile. Instead, we went to Lowes and spent a bunch of money on outdoor lighting and more furniture for the deck. We bought ceiling fans, and then went to the local nursery and bought plants, also for the deck. 

It was time. And it was a day when we were both tired, a little brain dead but still wanting to accomplish something. 

We sat outside tonight, as the sun was sinking and the wind was blowing, on our new chairs, sipping wine and listening to jazz. All I could think was that today, and tonight, at least we had time enough. Time enough to share, to enjoy, to be. And then... 

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by Lorin Michel Thursday, April 6, 2017 10:50 PM

The surname Watson was first recorded in the Pipe Rolls of Devonshire in England in 1176 as Peganus Wat. In Scotland the earliest recording was John Watson, who held lands in Edinburgh in 1392. Examples of later recordings taken from the early surviving registers of the diocese of Greater London include: the christening of Anne Watson on April 18, 1556, at St. Margaret's, Westminster; and the christening of Assabell Watson on May 16, 1561, at the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury. One of the earliest immigrants to the Virginia Colony in New England was John Watson (no relation to the earlier John Watson). He left London on the ship Speedwell on May 15, 1635, although his later history is now lost. The first recorded spelling of the family name is probably that of Richard Watson in 1324, in the Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, in Yorkshire, and during the reign of King Edward 11nd of England, 1307 – 1327.

Fast forward to Thomas Augustus Watson, born in 1854 and most known for the company he kept, namely Alexander Graham Bell.

Alexander Graham Bell's notebook entry of March 10, 1876, describes the first successful experiment with his telephone, during which he spoke through the instrument to his assistant, Mr. Watson, in the next room. Bell writes, "I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: 'Mr. Watson­–come here–I want to see you.' To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said." 

The reason for Bell’s shout? Battery acid. Evidently he had spilled some and needed assistance cleaning it up. It had nothing to do with the invention of the telephone. 

Battery acid, however, is not the culprit when I get texts – the modern equivalent of a phone call. No, the culprit is my husband. I usually get these types of texts when he is a) on the roof; 2) under the car; or perhaps outside somewhere and in desperate need of someone to help him out of a particular jam. 

Calling Watson has become the de facto call for help or assistance, at least in our house. I’m not sure why and I actually think it fits Kevin’s and my general attitude of weirdness and creating our own special and unique language. It works for us because it IS us. And it helps us do whatever we need to do. 

In 2011, a device designed by IBM was able to win on Jeopardy! It’s a supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence and sophisticated analytical software into a question-answering machine. It has application in the field of medicine, and according to an online commercial I saw today, in vineyards to tell the winemaker which rows may need more attention and less irrigation. While the device sounds a bit like Apple’s Siri on steroids, it’s actually named Watson, for the founder of International Business Machines, Thomas J. Watson.

I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would think of that.


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Have you herd?

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 4, 2017 10:41 PM

So much of our joy these days comes from 3.8 acres. When we bought this property in 2010, we knew we’d found something special. We also knew that eventually we’d have to make the big decision and move, something we finally did in 2013. In the three years leading up to that, we visited our dirt, traversing the desolate landscape between California and Arizona. We’d bring a bottle of wine, pick up a pizza and drive out to our property. We’d picnic out of the back of the Range Rover as we watched the lights of the city sparkle and listened to the sounds of a desert in the darkness. 

We moved into our house in 2015. From up here on the hill, we can see most of the world. Our visibility stretches for at least 10 miles, perhaps more. I’m going by the app of my phone that regularly lists the visibility index. Down below, houses dot the landscape, nestled amongst saguaros, ocotillos, mesquite trees and the occasional palm. To the southwest, is the city. Beyond that, the Tucson Mountains carve into the sky. The Santa Ritas, the Rincons and the Catalinas do the same. Tucson is a desert paradise surrounded by four mountain ranges. It’s glorious. 

Up here on the hill, we are removed from everything. Tucked as we are in the far northeast corner of Pima County, we can literally see where the city-limits ends to the east. There is a line of demarcation at the base of the Rincons running directly south, pointed toward Mexico. 

We sit up here all day long, Kevin in his office that faces east and southeast, me in mine that faces west southwest, and we work. Riley spends his mornings and evenings on the deck, watching the desert go by.

We have come to love our patch of land in the Sonoran, with its spikey fauna, and biting creatures. We absorb it; it becomes part of us every day. 

Including on days like this that begin with those biting creatures at 6 am. Let me set the stage. It was 5:55. The sky was just fading from darkness to light, painted gray. I was faintly asleep having spent yet another restless night. This is my life these days. I wake up in the night; I’m awake for at least an hour. Then I toss and turn and try to get comfortable, temperature-wise. 

I had just rolled onto my side and pulled up the covers, finally cool enough to burrow. And it started. The growl followed by the scramble and the bark and the bark and the bark. Riley scrambled out of his bed and raced toward the bathroom, howling, barking, whining. It was early and we weren’t quite ready to be up but up we were. 

I got up first as Kevin cussed softly from his side of the bed. I went to find Riley who was wedged between the bathtub and the windows, positively glued to what was outside and barking his fool head off. 

I asked what the problem was, what the issue was, what the hell was going on? And then I looked outside. One after another after another, javelina, of all sizes and shapes, were climbing up from the desert below, clamoring up the swale, sauntering across the driveway, stopping to strike a pose.

There were at least nine that I saw. A herd. And I’m not sure how Riley actually heard them since the windows were closed. Still, there they were, standing, posing, looking javelina-ish, odd-looking creatures that they are. And all I could think was – dog, I love this place.

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And I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 1, 2017 7:53 PM

Saturday mornings are my refuge from life. Especially when it’s cool, the temperatures moderate under a cloudy sky and only the faintest of breezes drifting through the desert. This was the situation today when Riley and I set out on our Saturday morning walk. We go alone, just the two of us, mom and puppy, a woman and her dog. Saturday is Kevin’s day of working outside and I respect that. It’s his respite from the week previous; mine is the long walk with the dog. Soon it will be too hot to do this so I take advantage of it while I can.

Leash secured, I zipped up my sweatshirt, donned my sunglasses – a must even if it’s not currently sunny because my eyes are sensitive and because the sun might pop at any moment – grabbed a water bottle, slipped my phone into my back pocket and off we went. 

Riley is a good walker and like all dogs, loves it. He prances along, sniffing everything in his path, stopping to stare down any errant leaf or twig that wasn’t on the road yesterday. It’s comical to watch him as he dares whatever it is to move. Naturally, it won’t, unless there’s a sharp gust of wind. We had none of that today.

We started down Mira Vista Canyon Place, heading west. Like the canyons of Southern California – Topanga, Malibu, Decker, Benedict, Laurel – there is only one way in and one way out. It’s one of the scary things about California. If there is a natural disaster, the people who live in these canyons all must exit the same way at the same time. I suppose it’s scary here, too. We are surrounded by desert fauna, and at certain times and especially in the summer, that fauna is dry, tinder for a brush fire. There would be a rush toward the exit. But we are not heavily populated here; there are only 14 homes. 

We walked toward the gate and like most Saturdays I planned to exit through and walk further than weekday mornings. There is time; and today there were favorable conditions. We pushed along, Riley trotting by my side. We stopped for some water and continued on. There were no creatures out. We saw no deer, not even a rabbit. The only car that drove past us was the non-waving Mabes. There’s always one unfriendly neighbor in every neighborhood.

At the gate, we climbed up the small rip rap hill and walked around and out. At the end of the road, I usually go left. Left there are homes and paved roads. I went right instead. 

There is a sign just past the turn to our road as you climb north. It says Primitive Road, Not Regularly Maintained. There was pavement for several hundred feet but as we crested the short hill in front of us, that pavement ended. To the left was Ponce de Leon. I love saying that name. Ponce de Leon. Much like I like saying Kuala Lumpur.

Again, we went right, onto Coronado. The pavement crumbled into dirt and rock. There were no homes along the path, though there were the old tracks of off-road vehicles. Riley and I trudged up and down hills, carefully picking our way through rocks and brush, my eyes constantly down watching for snakes or Gila monsters. We stopped again for water and I surveyed the desert. The saguaros are beginning to bud, the ocotillos are already waving with orange flowers. Mesquite and palo verde trees, brittle bush. Everything green and lush by desert standards. To the north, more houses dotted the hills leading up to Mount Lemmon; to the south were the homes in our neighborhood and the city far beyond. 

We kept going. I worried that it might be a harder hike than I anticipated but nearly two and half miles later, we found the paved road of Winnetka Court. Again we turned right, south this time, and found our way back to Mira Vista Canyon Place and home.

We could’ve gone the normal way, the expected way. But I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises. And it made all the difference on this Saturday.


by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 29, 2017 9:40 PM

March is an odd month. On the one hand, it ushers in spring with its warm temperatures and balmy breezes, and flowers spilling out of trees and bushes. This spring, we’ve had unusually warm days and nights, though two nights ago, we also had an unexpected thunder and lightning storm that temporarily brought cool back into the desert. Birds are everywhere, bugs have returned, including the tiny gnats that love to swarm when we walk. There are bees and wasps. Lizards are once again prolific.

March is our dating anniversary. Twenty-two years ago on this past 22nd, Kevin and I found each other. Two years ago, on the 24th, we moved into our dream home. March has been good to us as a couple. 

It’s also been difficult for us emotionally. On March 6, 2012, we had to say goodbye to our beloved Maguire. He was our first puppy love and had been with us since 1997. We used to joke that we got together, got the house, got the dog and then got married. Maguire was just 10 weeks old when we found him in the middle of February. He had been surrendered to the animal shelter in Agoura so we didn’t know his actual birth day. Our vet determined the 10-week age and by process of subtraction we decided to give him Christmas day as his birthday. It seemed perfect. A celebration of a supposed angel with an actual one. 

When we lost him on March 6, we were devastated. It had taken us days to make the decision, but as we sat on the floor in the pet hospital, we knew as awful as it was, it wasn’t right to keep him as he was. I laid down next to him, ran my hands through his fur, hugged him carefully. He felt greasy; he felt as sick as he looked. I asked him for a sign that what we were about to do was right. He had been heavily medicated after suffering a nearly fatal series of seizures on Friday night. It was now Tuesday. The veterinarian had taken him off of the anti-seizure medication in the hopes that maybe he would come through it but as I lay there with him, feeling his faint breaths, he had another small seizure. Moments later the vet came in and he was gone. 

At the end of October of that year we decided it was time to rescue another dog, and we found our Cooper. He was an older dog at six. We think that he was ultimately even older than that, though we didn’t care.  We had some issues with him. He was afraid of everything, mostly I think of being abandoned, and he masked it by being aggressive – not towards people, but towards other dogs. It took us a while but by working with him, we taught him to trust. He traveled with us, moved with us, and then moved again. He became a good boy. But when we moved into this house two years ago, he was very sick. The vet had diagnosed idiopathic vestibular disease. His balance was off and they didn’t know why. It usually clears up within 72 hours, but it didn’t. He developed pneumonia, and we rushed him to the Veterinary Specialty Center. Five days after we’d moved in, on a Sunday morning, during a time that should have been joyous, he stopped breathing. We weren’t there. It haunts us. That was two years ago today. 

March runs the gamut of emotions, the highs of love and commitment, the lows of losing two of our boys.

But it’s spring, when life renews itself. I’m sitting here, looking at our newest boy, sleeping in the sun. He’s three, happy, healthy. As March winds down, we’re all doing our best to live it out loud.  


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live out loud

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