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OrdinaryTimes 1.01-FeedingFerals

I didn’t expect to learn so much feeding feral cats. A neighbor was ill and needed someone to take over her Wednesday morning responsibilities, and I innocently volunteered. Now, every Wednesday morning, I fill two gallon jugs with water, top off the old kitty litter tub with dry food, and grab nine small cans of wet food (something I’d never dream of feeding my domestic critters), and make my rounds.

I visit five feeding stations: one behind the neighborhood hospital, and the other four around a local shopping center. I don’t always see cats at every station, but I always find clear evidence that they have been there; them or raccoons. I always find empty food pans. Slip over here for more ...


OrdinaryTimes 1.0-OldBeginnings

The Christian liturgical calendar classifies most of the year as ordinary time. Between Christmas and Easter, then again between Easter and Advent, many lesser holidays fall, but none qualify as extraordinary. The Greeks distinguished between festal and ferial times, formal feasting days and times when supper involves ferreting around in the back of the fridge to find whatever’s threatening to go bad. For both Christians and Ancient Greeks, most of their year featured ferreting around.

Perhaps we should celebrate ferreting. Not with parades and fireworks, but with whatever’s at hand. Could we celebrate the daily routine and thereby elevate mere existence into the realm of, if not pomp, at least some decent circumstance? I believe I could and I think I should. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.45-Coda

The OtterSummer ends as it begins, with Crash the cat quietly crowding between The Muse and I to stretch and scream purr in the wee hours of a summer morning. I was already awake. The night before, the house had been filled with The Grand Otter’s packing clutter, so the cats understood that something was happening that would break their routine. The cats always know.

The last supper proved satisfying. The Muse declared the mystery resolved, that she finally understands who showed up forty nights ago and who has slept through the almost forty days since. The Otter ate more than she usually does before excusing herself to continue her epic packing, certain that she’d need another bag to hold all of her stuff. I volunteered The Muse as an advisor, since she knows how break the space continuum and squeeze anything into a single rollaway bag, though she gave up when The Otter couldn’t decide what she’d need left out for the morning. “I’ll help you in the morning,” The Muse muttered as she walked away. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.44-Fine

At the end of a phrase of written music, you’ll find a little word that should not be interpreted as a comment on the quality of the concluding phrase, fine. Pronounced Fin eh, it elegantly denotes an ending. Whatever follows could be really different. The current piece is done.

The Grand Otter won’t leave us until early tomorrow morning, but The Otter Summer’s done today. Tomorrow’s departure will never resolve into anything more finely focused than a blur, and today will fail to find a cohering emotional center. The edges of any adventure are comprised of finely-chopped, conflicting glimpses of excitement, sadness, weariness, disorientation, gratitude, confusion, regret, hopefulness, even tears. Anyone should be overwhelmed by the experience. We are. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.43-macNplease

I had not planned on making mac and cheese for last night’s supper. The air conditioning technician left after six hours, the sky opened with a downpour, and oh, I’d missed lunch; but The Grand Otter noticed the package of macaroni on the counter, and asked. I could not say no.

We’re down to the final few hours of this OtterSummer, and her wish might as well be my command. My earlier aspirations to be a good example, perhaps even a wise teacher, have dispursed, leaving a willing and loving slave. So I set the pot on to boil and eat a peach to stave off certain starvation. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.42-ExtraversionOliveOil

Wordplay makes OtterSummers go ‘round. It’s always been this way. Far beyond the cute things The Grand Otter said before she’d learned proper pronunciation, this summer family’s language defines us and the place we inhabit together. She’s The Grand Otter, of course, a slight reconstruction of The Grand Daughter; colloquially, The Otter. Her grandmother is The Muse, or G-ma, or The Grand Mutterer. Me? I’m usually David, but sometimes answer to The Grand Farter, though I have no idea where that moniker originated.

The cats, formally named Crash and Rose, each have about a thousand names, and they answer to any of ‘em. I usually call Crash The Hairball, and that’s pretty much replaced his formal name around the house. Rose answers to Dweeb, because she gets called little else except, occasionally, Dweebhead. However demeaning these nicknames might sound, we always smother them with sweet molasses, no insult implied or intended. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.40-Ex-Use

My excuses got better gas mileage in my youth. I suppose they were probably best assessed by measuring the dissipation of a gas, though they seemed more substantial then; rock solid. Maybe they served as the smoke screen I used to cloak my advance against hostile forces—without substance but still useful—for the future sure seemed hostile then. I could feel safer by deflecting some possibilities, a few obligations, and as many responsibilities as I could get away with. Eternal youth, if I could play my cards right.

My excuses and I have experienced a few falling outs since; in and out of love, like any other aging couple. Every significant crisis of my life (so far) has been accompanied by me catching myself doing what I’d previously believed myself incapable of doing. Watching myself commit what my story insisted I could never do left more than my story in shambles. What excuses those obsolete excuses when they clearly don’t work anymore? Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.39-Unspokens

I imagine I’m accumulating unspokens like tokens , the way Scrooge McDuck hoarded gold, one eye wary of the Beagle Boys, ever richer as I grow old. My unspokens are a form of currency with no market for exchange. They line my life like pocket lint, so much spare change.

Nobody offers a nickel for my thoughts and who would pay a dime? I mumble to myself and recognize some brilliance, but not the same as someone else might. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.38-Food

Whatever else might separate the generations through an OtterSummer, food seems to keep us connected. The memories seem more than punctuated with meals, but perhaps determined by them. We’ve all outgrown that compulsive need to collect museums visits, concerts, movies, and what usually passes as vacation fare for the simple satisfaction decent home-cooked meals bring.

The few excursions to eat out have yielded spotty results while almost every meal at home has proven memorable. I have somewhat muted our usual menu in deference to The Grand Otter’s developing palate. I doubt that she’ll ever even try lamb kidneys. She’ll always accept mac and cheese, and though she begged for some inferior boxed stuff, I insist upon making up the real stuff from scratch. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.37-Chip

I remember when my big sister turned about thirteen, she developed a disfiguring chip on her shoulder. As if she carried the weight of the world there, she seemed to hang on the edge of complete exasperation. The smallest provocation could set her into a screaming fit. Of course, I considered it my special purpose to test the lower limits of her extreme sensitivity. Little picky stuff rarely ended me in hot water, but pretty reliably produced an entertaining, if brief fireworks display.

I’m pretty certain that the world doesn’t owe The Grand Otter a living, and the vast majority of the slights she’s experienced have been inadvertent ones, but she can be quite the powder keg when riled, and her fuse seems short. Perhaps, as my big sister demonstrated so well, it just comes with adolescence. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.36-Numb-ers

Maybe something inside every young woman wants to fail. Perhaps, searching for but not yet finding a workable identity encourages her to anticipate shortfalls. Maybe she’s forgotten what her earlier successes felt like. Could even be that her friends reverberate what used to be her worst fear into inescapable inevitability. Could it be a way to rebel against an adult world that doesn’t always seem so grown up?

Some days, The Grand Otter’s radiant energy seems unable to escape from her internal gravitational pull. She embodies dark matter, invisible to my naked eyes; perhaps to her’s, too. I find her still up at three am, complaining about how she just can’t get to sleep these days. I invite her to figure out a way to get up by nine for sourdough pancakes, but she won’t commit. I understand that she can’t commit, and a sharp twinge pokes somewhere near my heart. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.35-Nurchure

I’ve collected more than my fair share of life-guiding homilies. My profession expects me to, and I suspect my nature encourages me, too. Any time I run short—or feel I am running out, since I have an eternal excess—my Facebook stream recharges the aquifer.

The older I get, though, the more skeptical I’ve become. This might qualify as beneficial. I used to swallow just any old thing as eternal truth. Now, even eternal truth wants some choking to slip down.

Somewhere in there, the old nature versus nurture debate simmers. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.34-PixEase

Yesterday was The Muse’s mother’s birthdate. Supper conversation centered around this woman The Grand Otter and I never met. The Muse told one of her mother’s infamous almost off-color jokes and described some of what passed for routine when The Muse was The Otter’s age, giving us a real feel for who this woman must have been; The Otter’s Great Grandmother.

I remember from my own youth just how unlikely it seemed that those ancestors in those pictures ever inhabited the four dimensional, technicolor world I knew. I imagined their world having been grey or sepia, their lives at most two-dimensional; narrower. But now, of course, I’m old enough to remember long-ago times and recall them in sparkly hues, with more dimensions than seem existent now. No mere photograph does any of ‘em justice. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.33-EMC

The Grand Otter met Jonathan four years ago, when The Muse and I were still staying in temporary digs, that apartment building where our newly-captive cats would walk around the place screaming every morning at five. Weeks into our exile then, we would have joined in their pre-dawn lamentations without the support of a couple of really dear friends; and had The Otter not shown up. Sunday nights, we’d take over one of the big gas grills provided for the transient tenants and feast while The Grand Otter swam in the adjacent pool. Many of the very worst problems of this world were resolved around that table, and Jonathan could be depended upon to bring a selection of fine cheese and a bagful of chocolate—two of The Otters favorite food groups.

The following summer, he having completed his exile and we ensconced in better surroundings, he was an infrequent guest, always bringing a brick of extra-sharp Tillamook cheddar and a bag of chocolate. He was there the night The Otter melted down during one of The Muse’s work get-togethers. She only rarely sees him these days, but she warmly anticipates every encounter. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.32-OtterLess

breaking door down
Nobody broke down The Grand Otter’s door this morning. The Muse needed to be in early and I was running late, carrying a morning full of obligations. I figured I would just let her snooze. Returning an hour later, I made a lot of extra noise in the kitchen before disappearing out into the steeping humidity again. I decided she wouldn’t want to tag along, anyway, it being so darned hot and me wearing the short leash.

I returned well before noon and grabbed an early lunch. Still no sign of our slumbering ward. The drive gave me plenty of time to reflect: two weeks from this morning will be the morning after the end of this Otter Summer. My would-be side kick will have disappeared back into a temperate climate and some intemperate circumstances, and my influence, meager though it seems today, will shrink to much less than any arm’s length trying to stretch across a sizeable continent. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.31- ComePlain

The Otter was up early this morning because I told her she had to be. Last night, I announced that we ... ahem ... we ... would be driving The Muse to work this morning, which meant The Otter would have to be up and ready to roll by eight thirty. And, surprisingly, she was up and ready to go by eight thirty.

Of course, this being a car ride, she plugged right in to deflect any possibility of conversation, so The Muse and I were able to cover several weighty topics of no interest to The Otter; worse, topics she seems to find consistently irksome. Once we’d deposited The Muse across the street from the belly of the beast, The Otter moved to the front seat where I asked her if she was interested in breakfast. She was. Pancakes? Sure. We drove to the one reliable breakfast joint on The Hill, and she ordered a full stack of blueberry babies, complaining about the smell wafting across the aisle from the fish monger’s place. “I hate the smell of fish.” she proclaimed. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.30-SideKick

The Otter and I are waiting in line at the pharmacy and I mention that a piece in this morning’s Post described a rare plant that’s fixing to bloom downtown at the Botanical Garden. Even in the wild, it blooms only every decade or so, and when it blooms it smells like a rotting elephant carcass. “Wanna go down and see it?”

”I was kind of interested until you described how it smells, David,” she sneers. “No!”

”But, but, but, you could gross out all your friends when you head back home,” I entice. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.29-AtlasSnubbed

How To Be A Perfect 15 Year Old

Your attitude must remain solidly encompassed with contrary-ness. Whatever grandma suggests, find fault. Should she grant your heart’s desire, switch desires. If you really want that proffered gelato, make sure and complain about the size or the amount, even the weather.

Never miss any opportunity to project pure misery. Hugs should always be accompanied with a heart-felt ewwww.

Attempts to engage you in conversation should be blunted before the conversation begins. Earphones were invented to prevent meaningful conversation. Deploy them strategically; default to ‘already more happily occupied.’ Make sure you miss the beginning of every exchange, forcing them to wave their hands and restate whatever it was. This frustrates ‘em and puts you at a distinct advantage. Properly deployed, this approach should get you a welcome invitation to just plug back in, which is what you wanted, anyway. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.28-Opportunity

It looked like a genuine opportunity. The Grand Otter mentioned to me earlier in the week that she sure could use a job, this after an opportunity slipped away. When friends called asking if I could babysit, I suggested that they might want to hire The Otter. I asked them to suggest a rate.

The Otter had been counting chickens for a couple of days, figuring herself on the edge of prosperity by the end of the week. Friday came and she agreed to help vacuum out the place so the toddler wouldn’t just become a dust mop as she tottled around.

The parents were running late and the baby fussy. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.27-Lost

The Grand Otter and I had not gotten good and lost yet this OtterSummer. Until today. She’d agreed to vacuum the house, but the vacuum, which had been cranky lately, decided to turn downright obstinate, so I decided it should go to the shop for a tune up. Most of the main floor got cleaned.

I looked up vacuum repair shops online, found one reasonably close, and called. Explaining my difficulty, the fellow on the other end of the call said, “Sure, just get it in by five.” I told The Otter to find her shoes, we were heading out. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.26-Mute

I’m probably fooling myself when I fondly remember long, heart-deep conversations with The Grand Otter. Truth told, she’s always carried on a rich internal dialogue that only occasionally surfaced into interaction. She’s a keen observer, but restricts her commentary to Facebook posts, most of which seem appropriate, and the odd complaint and the very rare two or three line comment. She’s into appreciation this summer, and always remembers to thank me for my little favors, and nails me every time I neglect to acknowledge her thanks. Other than that, she’s mostly mute, though.

Her rich inner life stays contained beneath that crimson hair. She mentioned that she’d lost twenty-some pages of fresh writing yesterday when she closed her vintage laptop before saving. She probably won’t be doing that again right away. “It probably wasn’t that good, anyway,” she moaned. I was hoping she’d share that writing with me. Her few mutterings center around true mutters, spoken in a voice neither confident nor particularly audible. Our conversations involve a lot of me asking, “What?” Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.25-The Chair

The Grand Otter had a fire in her belly last night. She’d posted a longish rant about bullying early in the evening, then, following a suppertime conversation about it, she stormed upstairs, saying that she was going to write. A short time later, she came back downstairs with considerably less enthusiasm. I supposed she’d hit The Wall.

For me, The Wall always appears shortly after I feel creativity’s fire in my belly. Following that first moment of sublime inspiration, I go splat. And that splat can convincingly argue that I am not the writer I imagined myself to be, encouraging me to shuffle back to some complacent corner and withdraw from the dance. I figure The Wall might inhibit everyone’s creative spark, so I asked. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.24-Show-Her

After about forty five minutes, I notice that the shower’s still running so I knock on the bathroom door.


”Time to get out of the shower,” I yell through the door, “You’re gonna run out of hot water!”

”What? I can’t hear you.”

Later, The Muse comes home and the water’s still running. I ask her to please go in there and tell The Otter to get out of the freaking shower. “I already tried,” she replied, “The door’s locked. We’ll talk with her when she gets out.”

Even later, The Otter shows up at the supper table smelling of perfume. I suggest that five minutes should be plenty of time for a shower. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.23-Reading

I’m no more than averagely perceptive; I watch and I sometimes even learn. Watching The Grand Otter thumb-peck away at her handheld—that pecking involves a lot of reading, I know, but not the kind of reading that counts. The words aren’t printed and held, but projected onto a surrogate screen which imparts neither the touch nor the feel of anything even vaguely reminiscent of a book. Books matter, that hand-held crap doesn’t.

Today, I tried again to rouse The Otter at a decent hour, receiving a decent screech in response; enough of a screech that I was fairly certain she’d gained consciousness. An hour later, trying again yielded a similar response. Much later, after spending a rather lonely morning fussing over some draft ordinance our city council seems determined to foist on the citizenry, I finally managed to make contact. It was afternoon by then and the day was slipping by. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.22-ToeJam

In the Bible, washing another’s feet was considered an ennobling act of humility, especially if a king deigned to scrub some leper’s tootsies. At least once every Otter Summer, the girls—The Muse and her Grand Otter—take over some public space around the place for some fancy footwork. The Otter’s already a skilled beautician, The Muse her willing client.

This event usually occurs after a couple of chilly days and soggy nights, after The Otter’s experienced some upset or another, and communication’s been bouncing off steel-reinforced brick walls. A flurry of seedy Facebook posts the night before had prompted The Muse to post a complaint on The Grand Otter’s “Wall,” and I found that familiar, unwanted knot growing in my gut. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.21-Brittle

Stress-strain curves for brittle and ductile materials. Brittle materials fracture at low strains and absorb little energy. Conversely, ductile materials fail after significant plastic strain (deformation) and absorb more energy. Note that in this idealised example, the yield and ultimate tensile stresses are the same for both materials; brittle or ductile behaviour are not necessarily related to strength.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brittle_v_ductile_stress-strain_behaviour.png

The Muse crawls into bed, reporting that The Grand Otter seems brittle. Her brittle couldn’t be more unlike the sweet, nutty kind; it’s plenty real enough. It has nothing to do with how strong or beautiful she might be: she’s both strong and beautiful. Her ability to absorb energy and strain seems low right now, though she’s surrounded by an extraordinarily positive energy field and far, far away from her usual stressors. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.20-ShyTown

I presume I understand, but I’m pretty sure I understand as if it was me and not because I’m somehow clued in to what’s going on inside her. She’d rather be alone, it seems, but she’s never really isolated, given that she’s almost always plugged into that iPod Touch, sharing giggles with her legions of long-distance friends.

While we hovered along the periphery of the neighborhood potluck last night, she showed me that she was editing pictures of clouds she’d captured from the stands at the baseball game last week. She hadn’t been sure she was hungry, and a little angry that we’d insisted she tag along to the place down the street where this whole neighborhood was gathering. After we’d been through the food line, she changed her mind, returning with a few choice selections, which she ate head down, a great excuse to further avoid eye contact and small talk. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.19-Pancakery

The Otter has been making scratch pancakes since she was seven. Then, of course, with lots of help from The Muse. Now, she doesn’t need or want help, except when she does. Any well-intended attempt to assist can spark a growl threatening to bite, so the grown-ups kind of scatter when The Otter picks up the spatula. “Grandma, where’s the spatula?”

I’d rushed out to score some eggs, since The Muse had claimed the entire stock to hardboil for potato salad last night. I’d poked the stick through The Otter’s door to wake her, and she came pounding down mere moments later. Today’s the famous Takoma Park parade and we’d promised our guest a pancake breakfast, so pancakery must occur. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.18-Mourning

Otter Summer mornings almost never come very early. Sure, we’re in the middle of the longest days of the year, but our Otter prefers to spend her mornings top-down. The first few days, she complains about the time zone change, unable to sleep until the wee hours almost stumble into dawn. Later, she still complains about the time zone change, though less believably. “David, you know it takes me all summer to get used to this time zone!” In fact, she never seems to get used to it.

Now, I can track her overnight Facebook posts to derive a rough estimate of her crash time. She reliably sleeps until the crack of noon, and would sleep through even that were it not for a pesky G-pa and the opportunity to engage in something more alluring than sleep. Few alternatives qualify. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.17-Hair

Fifteen turns attention toward hair. For me it was length. For The Otter, color. The gray-heads encourage her to embrace her natural color, though most claim they have more important battles to wage. “If hair color’s the biggest controversy we have, I’m grateful,” we proclaim, though not entirely believably.

I fought a series of running skirmishes over my hair length from the time I was The Otter’s age until I was about twenty five. I spent a few years in there with a Samson complex, unwilling, perhaps unable to cut a single hair. Control over my hair length felt like the only part of my life I had any control over, and I would have been damned to forfeit that one toehold. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.16-TheLifeOfPie

The Grand Otter loves pie. The Muse loves to make pie, though she finds few opportunities to requite this love in these days of long work hours and Weight Watcher number-watching. The start of The Otter’s visit combined with the tail end of a vacation and a Saturday morning stop by a farmers’ market to produce the necessary conditions for an outbreak of pie.

The Muse makes pie the old fashioned way, and she wants The Otter to learn this tradition, but she can’t raise the growing bugger to join her in the pie dome she’s turned our kitchen into. All her specialized pie making tools, including her sideways-handled spatula, litter every available inch of counter space. I’d deflowered the gooseberries and pitted the sour pie cherries, leaving The Muse plenty of open ground to focus upon her particular mastery: crust. Slip over here for more ...


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