Ah. Coffee.

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 9, 2011 11:49 PM

I read recently that Starbucks is now 40 years old and I was surprised. I had no idea that the self-appointed coffee-connoisseur had been around nearly as long as I had. As I sat in one today, in Glendale, sipping a non-fat latte, listening to their music selection of the day, a woman who sounded a little like Lucinda Williams, and catching up on a little work, I thought about how important coffee has become to our society.

It is an international ice-breaker, a meeting maker, a social norm. "Let’s grab coffee." "Meet me at Starbucks." "See you at 10." It is ever present in most gatherings; it is the way we end most dinners. It begins most days.

Coffee. Ah.

I know that every morning Kevin gets up before me, usually to take the dog out. He then makes coffee, bless his soul. We grind our own beans and steep them in water, steaming through a very narrow tube to fill a pot. I lay in bed, inhaling the rich dirt and dark fragrance as it wafts through the house and into the bedroom. I can hear it percolating. Do we still call it that? I usually call it cooking. After a while I call out and my fabulous husband appears in the doorway and asks: “You want I should bring you coffee?”

That’s better than Starbucks any day! And definitely every morning. I always nod enthusiastically. 

Ah. Caffé.



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Ringing the bell

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 8, 2011 11:30 PM

Alexander Graham Bell changed the world on June 2, 1875. It was that night that his partner, Thomas Watson, plucked a reed, part of an ongoing experiment that Bell was running to create a harmonic telegraph, mimicking the overtones necessary for creating speech over telegraph lines. Then, on March 10, 1876, the famous words were uttered over a liquid transmitter: “Mr. Watson ­– Come here – I want to see you.” Words that Watson heard clearly over those same lines.

The telephone was officially born that day, and it forever changed the way we could, and do, talk to one another. Hallelujah!

Since Bell and Watson, we’ve gone from boxes that hang on the wall with separate ear and voice horns, to rotary phones, to touch tone or push button. Portable phones made their debut in the 1980s, right around the time that car phones became popular. Then came cell phones, 1G, 2G, 3G and now 4G. Smart phones.

These phones allow us to talk as well as type so we can communicate in many ways, using just one device. We surf the 'net, we tweet. We are forever talking to one another in one form or another and I believe that's a good thing. It keeps the lines of communication open to all sorts of messages and all manner of information-sharing.

People often bemoan the lack of communication skills with today’s younger generation. Supposedly they don’t know how to talk on the phone; all they do is text; they’re on Facebook or Twitter all day long. All may be true, but what’s also true is that every one of those is a means of communication. The older generation may not like it but the fact is, they’re communicating. They’re “talking” to each other in a myriad of ways, setting up food dates and making plans, connecting, spreading important news instantaneously, even letting parents know what’s going on. They’re talking.

In the 1870s there was one official means of communication, the telegraph, and one beginning to gain popularity, the telephone.

Today, we don’t think about how we communicate; we simply pick up the phone. 

Cell. Text. Email. Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. The Internet. All accessible by phone, with caller ID.

We’re talking up a storm over all kinds of lines and wireless devices. Alexander Graham Bell could never have imagined that his tiny liquid transmitter would lead to this but thank god it did.

In 1877, the first long-distance telephone lines were laid and in 1915, the first coast-to-coast long-distance call was completed, with Bell in New York City calling Thomas Augustus Watson in San Francisco.

I talked to my mom tonight. She’s in New England and I’m in Southern California. I think she’s got a little Bell in her, and I’m out here celebrating Thomas Watson. We talked for an hour, and I celebrate that. It's Alexander Bell's greatest legacy, the ability for those far away to have contact with those we love virtually any time.

And I love that.


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Wisdom of the aging

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 7, 2011 11:20 PM

Had a very nice interaction today with an older gentleman. We were out for our lunch-time walk, and on our way up the third of four hills, we encountered this man as he too ascended the hill, with a little help from a cane. He was slightly hunched forward, spry in a pair of baggy Levis, a red hoodie, white sneakers, a baseball cap, and aviator sunglasses that were almost black. He commented on the weather as we passed by and we stopped for moment to chat. He was here from New Jersey and was enjoying the weather immensely. It was about 65º today with a cool wind blowing. He’d left New Jersey on February 6 when it was 15º; he wasn’t missing it.

For the past few years, he and his wife have been snowbirding in Oak Park. They started with a month, then two. Next year, he’s thinking they may be here for three months. He loves this little town, loves the restaurants and the shopping. Loves to walk. They stay with his old college roommate.

I’m guessing that he’s in his early 80s. He was delightful, so enjoying the day and today’s life. And I couldn’t help but think that this man was wisdom-walking. The life he must have led. Had probably seen a war or two, married his high school sweetheart, had three kids (two girls and a boy in the middle) and worked his whole life at the same company. He gets a pension, and social security. He’s not hurting for money, even after putting his three kids through college and helping each one of them buy their first home.

He and his wife sold their house years ago and live in a very stylish townhome now. It’s much easier, much more ideal for their lifestyle. In the summer, they golf and visit their grandchildren. In the winter, they spend time in Southern California.

He was charming and lovely, a man of integrity who loved life, was out celebrating the day and vowing to celebrate even longer next year.

And it got me thinking. We think of wisdom as something we gain with age; that it’s something profound. I wonder, though, if wisdom is sometimes simply realizing that another place is better in the winter.

Wisdom is appreciating a beautiful March afternoon.

Wisdom is knowing that three months under a California winter sun, even when it’s just 65º is infinitely better than being under a gray New Jersey sky, when the temperature is rarely above 15º.

Wisdom is taking a walk on a Monday afternoon and talking to the whipper-snappers who are cruising by, and getting them to stop and chat. 


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March 5 and 79º

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 5, 2011 4:55 PM

An absolutely stunning day. The kind of day that, if I was religious, I’d say God made. But I don’t think she did. I think it was simply a function of the weatherman, my favorite dude, Dallas Raines. He made it happen; I'm sure of it.

Blue sky, not even a wisp of a cloud, nor hardly a hint of a breeze.

Perfect bicycle weather.


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In which I write about nothing at all

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 3, 2011 10:49 PM

I'm a big fan of Winnie the Pooh. I freely admit it. In fact, I'm proud of it. The genius of A.A. Milne was that he could take the simplest philosophy, the simplest ideal of life and make it profound.

"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."

"If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear."

"The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking."

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.


"Think it over, think it under."

Oh, and "Bother."

Bother to celebrate Pooh and Piglet and something today.

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Carole King

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 2, 2011 11:38 PM

I watched the Troubadours documentary tonight, and it made me remember how much I absolutely loved Carole King when I was starting to appreciate music.

Longer post tomorrow, but for tonight, I feel the earth move.



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Celebrating Something

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 1, 2011 11:12 PM

I wonder sometimes if we weren’t happier before we knew everything that was going on in the world at any given moment in time. Between 24-hour news and the Internet, we are bombarded constantly. Maybe it’s just me and the sites I used to visit, but so much of it seems to be mad, or bad, or snarky.

Sometimes I find myself going to Entertainment Weekly just to get some mindless celebrity breakup or crack-up news, or surfing YouTube for some puppy romping or kitten terrorizing-a-shoebox videos to get some relief.

There are good things out there, wonderful things to celebrate. I know this because I took a look at my own life, and found a number of somethings to celebrate.

Somethings that bring me joy, make me smile, and make each day a better day.

I suspect that everyone has something to celebrate. Maybe it’s small, like a hot cup of coffee or a banana that’s perfectly ripe. Not too hard, not too mealy. Perhaps it’s getting snail mail – so old-fashioned and quaint – a “thinking of you” card. Or receiving an accolade regarding work.

My somethings are different every day but often include my dog, my husband making me laugh at something stupid, or an email from my son just to say “hi, mom. love you!” A text from my sister.

I’m not a religious person but I do believe each of us has great purpose, that we can rise above the everyday nastiness that is sometimes too easy to succumb to, and live our lives out loud. Make our voices heard, even silently. It means celebrating something.

A good friend’s voice, a piece of greasy pizza, music, an un-put-downable-book, the quiet, a roaring fire, a fun drive, poetry, television, Chicago, Pedigree dog food commercials, slippers. Every day, something happens that is joyful. What happened today that you’re celebrating? When you give it a name, you make it real, and when you make it real, positivity happens.

That’s why I’m writing, and why I’ve chosen to live it out loud and celebrate something, anything, everything, finding at least one thing every day that makes me smile.

That’s what it means to live it out loud. To spread our arms and dance.

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Vintage Puppies

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 28, 2011 7:44 PM

We adopted Maguire on February 17, 1997. He was a smelly little bag of fur, the cutest thing we’d ever seen, eight weeks old and in a cage at the Agoura Animal Shelter. He had two full-size roommates but it didn’t seem to bother him. He slept on his back, four short legs in the air, completely confident that he wouldn’t be attacked.

Kevin found him on a Saturday morning. He and Justin had gone to the shelter without me. I have a hard time going to shelters; I want to bring all the dogs home. The boys had been going for weeks, searching for “our” dog. I had entertained the idea that we would get a female, perhaps three years old or so. Then Kevin came home and announced that he had found the one. And “he” was a puppy. We went back that afternoon so I could meet him, and the little guy came bounding out from the back of the cage, bouncing as puppies do, and proceeded to bark at us, yip really, three times. So ferocious. And so incredibly adorable that I was smitten.

Because he had been turned in the day before and the shelter had a policy of holding the dogs for at least three-days before adopting them out, we had to wait until Monday morning before we could take him home. Kevin and I were there at 7 am on that Monday in February. By 8 am, we were home with our stinky boy.

We named him Maguire because on the way home from the shelter he thrust his head into the center console of the car and pulled out a dollar bill. We had just seen Jerry Maguire. “Show me the money.” It seemed to fit.

We bathed him, trained him, fell head over heels in love, and grew as a family.

He was supposed to be a medium dog. He grew to be 85 pounds and every pound is pure joy. We still have no idea what his mix is but we’ve settled on Golden Retriever, Australian Shepherd, and a few other ingredients thrown in for flavor.

He’s 14 now, an old man by big-dog standards. But he’s healthy and happy. He doesn’t run anymore, can no longer jump on the bed like he did for years to cuddle with me in the morning. But he loves his nightly walks; still chews on his toys. A current favorite, called Rope, is a tennis ball wrapped in thick string. He can’t penetrate it and it is an ongoing challenge. He still barks in threes, though his bark is now a deep baritone.

When he was little, he had a bit of white on his face, but his fur was mostly black. Then he went through what we called his surfer-puppy phase, when he became blonde. Now he’s back to mostly black fur, with an all white face. Even his eyelashes are white.

Our boy is old.

We’ve developed a true appreciation and love for older dogs, for their mannerisms, for their defiance. They’re so sure of themselves, so confident in who they are. That’s our boy.

Maguire sleeps most days, and his walks are shorter than they used to be. He’s almost completely deaf so he rarely goes into the backyard for longer than a short tour of the property, which isn’t very big. He goes into the bedroom now when it’s dark and barks at nothing. He loves to huff and puff, standing at the window in the kitchen, staring out at the world going by, and assert his big-dog status when another dog dares to walk within eyesight.

He dreams more now than he used to, his front and back feet both furiously galloping to somewhere. Occasionally he has nightmares and those are scary. He moans and cries in his sleep; sometimes he pees. It breaks my heart.

Each morning he gets up between 6:30 and 7, shakes his fur into place and walks out, stiffly, onto the hard wood floor of the living room. His nails announce that he’s ready to go out. Jazz puppy, we call it. Chhhh ch-ch-chhhh ch-ch-chhhh  ch-ch-chhhh.

He eats his cookies, takes his glucosamine and chondroitin, and then settles down for the first of his many naps.

We pet him, kiss his nose, rub on him, and love him.

He has at least 20 names. Maguire, Magu, Maguski, Honey Bear, Bear, Boo, Boo Boo, Puppy Feet, Sparky, Sparklet, Twinkle Toes and more. He’s always been our puppy. We recently dubbed him our vintage puppy.

He may be old, but he’s still got it going on. And we celebrate him every minute of every day.


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Nostalgia and the 70s

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 27, 2011 2:50 PM

One of my guilty pleasures is 70s music. Not disco; never disco. But the softer side of rock. The kind of music that Time Life used to put on CDs and sell to suckers like me. There's something about listening to America, Jim Croce, Carly Simon and others that reminds me of growing up. Once I discovered real music, like Fleetwood Mac, Heart's Dreamboat Annie, Peter Frampton and Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, I got over anything that resembled Bread or the Bee Gees. 

Except that I didn't. Not really. Every once in a while, I still want to hear the Little River Band and Ambrosia. I think it's nostalgia. 




It'll make you cringe a little but if you're in your 40s or 50s, I bet you know all the words.

Apologies for the Afternoon Delight and the Carpenters. Even nostalgia can't make either any better. 

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The Power of Words

by Lorin Michel Friday, February 25, 2011 11:50 PM

As a writer, I am naturally enamored with words, all of them. The ones I know and even the ones I don’t. One word can alter the course of a conversation, even change the course of a relationship. The right word can bring both smiles and tears, sometimes simultaneously. The wrong word can bring anger, fear and loathing.

I use words to make my living. Each day I stare at numerous blank Word documents, the little angry cursor blinking at me incessantly, waiting for me to put a word, a string of words, a sentence of words that become a paragraph that become an entire article or story, down and to hit save. Years ago we didn’t need to worry about that; today we have to save our words.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the recognized authority on all things word-related, there are some 600,000 words in the English language though not all are in current use. Its second edition contains entries for 171,476 words that we use every day and 47,156 words that have become obsolete. There are also 9,500 derivative words, something formed from something else. Electricity from electric. There are also slang words. When you total them all up, there are over 250,000 words in use every day.

Shakespeare, one of the premier wordsmiths ever, used some 884, 647 words in his plays and sonnets, but his vocabulary was between 18,000 and 25,000. The average 16 year old has a vocabulary of 10,000 to 12,000 words. A college graduate uses 60,000 active words and 75,000 passive ones.

Half of the words we use are nouns, a quarter are adjectives and a seventh are verbs. The rest are exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes and more.

As a writer, I hope I use all parts of all words. I yell! I write and I read. I have books on a shelf. I have walked through a bookstore. I’m in love.

See what I did there? I used an exclamation, a conjunction, a preposition, and a suffix. I did not use more. Well, maybe I just did.

Words can wound or bring joy, they can dance or fall flat. They can describe a murderous plot with detail (in the corner of the dark room, a sliver of light oozed through the crack in the blinds, illuminating a tiny man; the shadow of an ax glowed eerily on the white wall), or declare undying love (I’ve been waiting for you all my life and suddenly, you walked in, ordered a beer and winked at me. And I was powerless to stop my heart).

In my arsenal of 60,000 active words I like ones like archaic, discombobulated, nebulous, nefarious, puppy. Is there a better word than puppy? Maybe puddle.

And of course one of my favorites from when I was in 5th grade and we had a contest to see who could make the most words from another word. The word was antidisestablishmentarianism. To this day I’m not sure what it means. But I know I won the contest.

That’s the power of words.

Oh, and there are 523 fabulous words in this blog post. 

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