Sunday, April 23, 2006


Chocolate Nightmare

Most of my memories of chocolate are fond. There is the memory of my great aunt Helen arriving at our house for every occasion with a box of Fannie May Colonial Assortment of chocolates. Irresistible! There is the sweet memory of my first love sharing his giant bar of Hershey's with me in Fort Zany. When I lived in the e.e. Cummings House in Sandburg Terrace on the twenty-second floor and the wind was blowing from south to north the Blommers Chocolate Factory would perfume the air with its most intoxicating aroma. Nights sitting on my balcony were like a calorie free trip to Willy Wonka's.

However there is one chocolate story that is a nightmare. My chocolate nightmare! Almost two years ago, on a beautiful summer evening, my husband and baseball loving son had gone off to see the Charlotte Knights play. I stayed back with the other two children and our three month old Jack Russell Terrier puppy, Jenny.

My daughter was seven and our new puppy was her world. I was out gardening when she popped her head out the front door and asked if she could give Jenny some treats. Sure, but not too many I called back.

As the light began to fade I came inside to see the lazy Susan cabinet opened and the newly purchased container of Vitakraft Choco Milk Drops knocked on the floor. I picked up the container and noticed the new jar was now only two-thirds full. I smiled thinking, that girl is going to spoil that puppy.

My children and puppy were happy inside, all snuggled up together. This was rather unusual. Jenny was usually running circles around her circles, but instead she was asleep! Asleep? A Jack Russell Terrier puppy asleep? This struck me as rather odd. Then I looked closer. Jenny was huge. She was completely bloated! And she was struggling to breath. Suddenly she was heaving. I picked her up and put her out on the front step where she immediately puked. I guess she had too many treats.

I brought her inside and watched her body shake. Maybe she's cold after being sick. I swaddled her in a baby blanket and kept a close eye on her. After fifteen minutes her condition was not improving. She seemed almost comatose. I called my husband on his cell phone. He said the game was over and they were headed home. By the time he arrived home Jenny's condition had worsened. She had thrown-up again and was so bloated she looked like road side kill. My husband and oldest son scooped Jenny up and took her and the doggie treats to the animal emergency room.

It turns out that one of the main ingredients of Vitakraft Choco Milk Drops is cocoa. Cocoa is lethal for dogs. Jenny had to be given charcoal to stabilize her. It is a miracle she survived her ordeal. Her body had reached a dangerously toxic level of cocoa. She had to spend the night in the E.R. The doctors were floored that these lethal poisons were being sold as dog treats in a national pet store!

The next day, with my $200 E.R. bill in hand I marched into Petsmart were I bought the treats and demanded they pay for the E.R. vet visit. Their only solution was to refund me for the Vitakraft treats and nothing more. I asked that they talk to management about removing the Choco Milk Drops from their shelves. They told me they had no control over what their purchaser ordered. Crazy and irresponsible! I trusted Petsmart to provide healthy and safe treats for my dog. Never again will I pick up a can or bag without fully reading the label.

Since her near death experience Jenny has made a full recovery and is an energetic and fun loving dog who loves to play, dig and paint. We stick to dog kibble, Milkbones and Mother Hubbard biscuits as rewards now. I also stay out of pet stores that refuse to read the labels of the products they sell or listen to their customers.

Chocolate is a tasty human treat but can be deadly for dogs. Thankfully for us Jenny survived.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sunday Scribblings

Sunday Scribblings

# 3

Prompt: When We Were Wee....

My First Memory

Often I have wondered how does memory work? Not from a scientific perspective but from an emotional one. What our minds chose to remember or forget is within our control. But how far back can we remember? Certainly not our birth. Our first memories are typically BIG moments like a near drowning when our dad races to the bottom of the pool and scoops us out or when we first learn to ride a bike. These moments define us, scare us, or delight us and most definitely shape us.

My first memory is being told to hush. This was an usual moment for me. I was always such a joyful child and my mother and grandmother were always happy to have me in tow. Being told to hush was a big deal. I didn't understand why, but I was being told to be quiet.

What I remember is that the T.V. was in our breakfast room. That was not the normal everyday thing in our household. We had one T.V. in those days and it resided in my grandmother's room. My mother and grandmother had tissues in their hands. They were crying. I must have been talking as they were watching television. I didn't really understand but I knew it had to be something really important. So I sat quietly on the breakfast room floor and watched my mother and grandmother cry. That is all I remember.

What amazes me and others about this memory is that I was only 16 months old. But in my mind I can see that little snapshot of them crying as clear as day. Many people I have told this story to say there is no way I could remember, but I do! And the reason is simple. It was November, 1963 and my mother and grandmother were watching the funeral of John F. Kennedy on T.V. Maybe because his murder so defined that time. Maybe because his murder and funeral were the catalyst for how Americans now experience the news. I'm not really sure.

As I grew older I somehow held onto that recollection. I can't recall J.F.K.'s murder or funeral, although I have seen them countless times on T.V. since. What I do remember was being told to hush by the two woman I loved most and for me that has forever been embossed in my memory bank.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Poetry Thursday

A while back the Greenish Lady turned me onto a very fine Irish poet by the name of Seamus Heaney. Everyone out in Blogland that reads In Otter Space knows my appreciation for the darling, smart and playful Lutra candensis (River otter). Enjoy this lovely poem by Mr. Heaney.

The Otter
Seamus Heaney

When you plunged
The light of Tuscany wavered
And swung through the pool
From top to bottom.

I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,
Your fine swimmer's back and shoulders
Surfacing and surfacing again
This year and every year since.

I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.
You were beyond me.
The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air
Thinned and disappointed.

Thank God for the slow loadening,
When I hold you now
We are close and deep
As the atmosphere on water.

My two hands are plumbed water.
You are my palpable, lithe
Otter of memory
In the pool of the moment,

Turning to swim on your back,
Each silent, thigh-shaking kick
Re-tilting the light,
Heaving the cool at your neck.

And suddenly you're out,
Back again, intent as ever,
Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt,
Printing the stones.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sunday Scribblings

Sunday Scribblings

Real Life

There are so many stories I could tell about my current real life, but seeing it is April 9th I will share this very intimate portrait with you. I realize no matter how I write it, I will miss something. There is no way my words can come even close to painting this portrait.

Saturday, April 9, 1983

It is a rainy chilly Saturday April morning in Chicago. I should be in my dorm room but instead I'm camped out at my boyfriend Dan's house. The phone rings. It is the call. I knew this call was coming soon, but the reality of it being now hits hard. I hustle, get my things together and we take off.

I remember waiting on LeRoy Avenue in the pouring rain. Ironically, we are waiting at the very spot were my good friend Eugene had tragically died seventeen years earlier. Inside Dan's car the only sound is the whoosh-whoosh from his windshield wipers. There is nothing that can be said. I sit silently heavy in my thoughts and wait for my sister Meg.

Soon Meg's brown Mustang pulls up. We hug in the pouring rain and then drive the one block together deep in our own thoughts. What can two sisters say to each other as the reality of what is about to happen is staring us in the face?

Inside my childhood home, my father, my beloved and darling father is lying on his death bed. His breathing is getting shallower. We can hear the death rattle. Tears are falling from everyone's cheeks. Even the hospice nurse that has been staying at our house for the past three weeks is full of tears. For months now I knew this moment was coming and I tried hard to prepare myself for it. But how can a twenty year old college student prepare herself for the death of her father? How does daddy's little girl say goodbye?

His wife and everyone of his six children are gathered around his bed except for Mike. He is still up in Winona Minnesota at school preparing to come home. We all huddle around his bed, holding his hands, stroking his cheeks. Giving the only thing we have left to give; our presence, our love, our support. We pray, we talk, we sit quietly; waiting. His vital signs are getting weaker. The nurse says his death is near.

Then he opens his big brown eyes. He looks around the room, taking one last look at his family, his wife and children. His eyes flutter and close for the last time. His breath becomes shallower, slower, further apart. We hear him gasp. A few more breaths. Then the breaths become further and further apart until there are no more.

All that's left is my father's shell, his lifeless body begins to turn rigid and cold.

I leave the room unable to stand this unbearable, incomprehensible pain. I want to run down the street screaming, beating my fists against something hard. But I don't. I walk back into his room. I want to see him again. I must see him again. To begin to allow this reality to sink in. I need to drink him in for one last time. I touch his hand, it feels strange, cold and lifeless. I bend over his body and kiss his lips for the last time. Tears are falling, matching the raindrops outside. His lips are blue and cold. The kiss feels awful. It is something I immediately want to erase. But I can't. It is the final loving gesture a daughter can give her father.

Twenty three years later the tears still fall like raindrops staining this page. I realize this man, my father, is still teaching me about life, about love, about family and loyalty. These gifts he keeps giving reach beyond the grave and will always be with me for as long as there is breath in my body.

Daddy, I love you. I miss you. Please send some postcards.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Poetry Thursday --- Lovely and Rooted Janie

Please bear with me. In honor of Poetry Thursday I tried my hand at writing a poem! Here's the background: Today in the Charlotte Observer there was a story about a woman named Janie Ferrell. Her family has passed plants down for the last five generations. Her story inspired me to write this poem. It is still a little rough, but I'm O.K. with that because poems are not my usual style.

Lovely and Rooted Janie
Lisa Otter

In a blooming garden,
where Bridal Wreath Spiraea
arch their graceful branches
laden with white flowers,
come discover Janie Ferrell
firmly planted.

She tends to her roots,
blessed with her precious gifts.
Generation to generation
these legacy plants
pass mother to daughter
with gentle loving care.

The Peonies sweet story,
the Garden Phlox's cheer.
The Lilacs, Daffodils, Irises all have something to share.
Hear the soft whisper from Daylilies in the summer's breeze.

It has been this way for five generations,
plants connecting,
grandmothers to granddaughters,
through their roots,
growing deeper,
inseparable by time.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Letter of Gratitude to My Oldest and Dearest Friend

Dear Journal,


Strange, but I never have written the above words before.

Thank You dear Journal! You are a God to me, so selfless, so loving, always beckoning me with your crisp white pages. I love the feeling of dancing with you. Just letting go and spinning around in your arms, lost in the rhythm of the pen as it scratches across our white dance floor.

You are a cherished and ever faithful servant my dear, dear Journal. You have been the shoulder I lean on, the open ear that always listens, never yawning or looking at her watch.

You have caught many of my tears, soothing me like no one else can. What a wonderful non-judgmental supporter you are! In you I release and unleash life's daily burdens. Not only do you celebrate with me my most joyful times, but together we have been through the deepest throws of grief, sorrow, sadness, and depression.

And what have I done for you? Nothing! Nada! Zip! Never once thanking you. I feel so selfish. So Narcissistic! Yet there you are always affording me the opportunity to tune out the rest of the world and get in touch with the truer, deeper, rawer version of myself. You are the holder of all my secrets, concerns, joys, drawings and stories. A capsule of who I was, who I thought I was and who I am becoming.

It has been over 30 years and our relationship keeps growing and evolving. It is as comfortable as an old pair of jeans; like a well loved quilt, woven together with the bits and fragments that make up me. Like an old married couple you help me finish my thoughts. I trust you more than I even trust myself at times.

Have you felt every feeling I've written? Have you embraced my emotional release, my writer's cramp, my melancholy at the end of an old journal, or my joy in starting a new one? Why of course and never once have you complained about the late hours or my foolish imperceptiveness.

This surreal journey of crossing from the conscious to the subconscious has been at your gentle and persistent guidance. Thank you for beckoning me to come dance with you. I treasure you!

You are My Words,


Monday, April 03, 2006

New Beginnings - Take a S.W.I.G.

The Artists Way is over.
Time to start some new things.
Endment is changing gears. She is Spinning Words Into Gold using Maureen Ryan Griffin's new book. I told her I'd give the first assignment a try too. Take a S.W.I.G.!

Assignment: Maureen asks us to write who we are in a ten minute sprint. Here's mine.

I am a woman,
yet inside still a little girl.
I am curious.
I am playful.
I want to create what I need
to be creative.
I am a student of life,
carefully studying what others have to teach.
Whether I embrace and agree with their philosophy is
not as important as
what changes
in my heart, in my mind, in my soul
while under their guidance.
I am a sponge
ready to absorb the drink of knowledge.
I love to play, to experiment, to mix
two things together to see the reaction.
I may be the raindrops falling down to earth,
No, I am more like the
newly sprouted seedling, ready to drink, ready to soak up the sun.
Joyfully springing forward.
I am alive in the NOW.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sunday Scribblings

Here it is, the first writing prompt for Sunday Scribblings:

What would you attempt if you knew you would not fail?

Fly without fear. That's what I would do if I knew I wouldn't fail. I wish I could sit in my seat without squeezing the circulation out of my husband's hand. When I fly I squeeze harder than when I delivered any of our three babies. I hate to fly. Especially on small planes. Fear chokes me like a Boa Constrictor. Most of our flying is on a small jet, so it is something I really need to get over.

Last night we were flying and as I sat in my seat watching the last little trace of the sun set I was filled with a new kind of peacefulness I never thought possible while in the air. The pilot, Danny, said "Come up here and fly the plane." NO! Not a possibility. My husband encouraged me, "Come on Honey. Do it!" Danny has assured me over and over that if I sign up for flying lessons I will not be scared of flying anymore. He promises I will never white-knuckle my way from city to city ever again. Somehow I can't imagine flying any other way than scared and nervous.

After the sun set, I sat in my seat and watched the pilots. Fear washed over me. What if the pilots make a mistake, what if we lose cabin pressure. Creepily Payne Stewart images were flashing rapid-fire through my mind. What if, what if, what if, what if. Then I thought, "what if" hasn't happened yet. Relax. Enjoy.

After we landed I said to the other pilot Mark, "Well I lived again." He shot me a look and said, "Of course, I won't have it any other way." So maybe, just maybe next time I fly I'll go sit up in the cock pit, get a little more intimate with the control panel and lose some of my fear. Will I fail or fly?