So Many Changes

Oftentimes, it seems as though nothing changes in my life; every day is exactly the same.

But when things do change, they happen drastically, dramatically, and en masse—everything, everywhere, all at once, as it were.

Back in September, for example, when Nicholle lost so much of her mobility—and with it, much of her independence—there were so many changes and adaptions Nicholle, the kids, and I had to go through that life quickly became unrecognizable for us, though only for a short while. Just as we always do when MS flares up and forces us to play along with it, we adjusted to yet another new normal. It sucks, but that’s just the way life is with degenerative nerve diseases with no cure.

Over the past couple of weeks, another barrage of changes has been set in motion, this time for some good.

At the end of November, I’d received a text message from a friend at the local chapter of the MS Society asking if I had any desire or intent to give another rally for increasing my fundraising total for this year’s Bike MS event—which I didn’t get to (again) ride due to an MS flareup (again)—as I was on the cusp of being bumped out of the semi-prestigious Club 100, the top 100 fundraisers for the event. In uncharacteristic fashion, I messaged back with something of a dump of all the goings on in our lives and why I had missed out on participating on this year’s ride.

The topic quickly changed from “How much more money do you think you can raise?” to “How can we help you?”

In what seemed like no time, I was on the phone with an MS Navigator, a specialist with the MS Society at their main office in Denver who helps folks nationally connect with resources to help life with MS be more manageable. A list of what Nicholle and I had discussed was laid out with a plan for the Navigator to connect with Nicholle (as the person with MS) and formally set things in motion.

So it’s now been a few weeks, and here’s all that’s happened:

  • Patient lift hoist was purchased to help with transfers in & out of Nicholle’s wheelchair; cost reimbursed
  • Medication that was the most likely culprit in causing flareup symptoms back in September isolated & switched back to previous iteration; results, promising
  • Adjustable beds purchased, as hoist allowed easier access to bed for sleeping; Nicholle & I now sleep in the same room (and her in an actual bed) for the first time in years while also allowing her & the kids cuddle & cartoon time in the mornings during the winter break; cost reimbursed
  • Nicholle gifted a subscription to Zwift to allow her to resume use of BLE modules we setup earlier in the year; I also made some additional modifications to the setup to allow her to be more independent with exercising
  • A contractor has visited & measured the master bathroom for a ceiling-mounted hoist to help Nicholle be more independent; they may also be able to extend a ceiling track to the bedroom for even greater independence

It’s been a busy past few weeks, for certain—and not without issue. Despite not having to go to work the past two weeks, the daily toll & toil of being caretaker/husband/father/teacher/individual has again worn me down, and I am certainly not proud of how I’ve reacted. But I’ve some additional plans to put in motion within the first few days of the new year to help me, in turn helping everyone else.

Thanks for reading.


Working Title

Today is Thursday—or I’m pretty sure it’s Thursday.

This week has been a weird one and for more than just the regular reasons associated with the end of a grading cycle, as well as the semester. Tuesday marked 13 years that Nicholle & I have been a lawfully married couple, and we celebrated by getting takeout for dinner instead of the typical Wednesday. Consequently, every day has not seemed like the day it really is.

Or something like that.

Now that the timeline has been established, I’m thinking I might need to shut things down for the night. I entered into WordPress with the intent to write until I grew tired enough to fall asleep quickly (a power nap nabbed when I first got home rested me far more than I thought was possible), but it appears that drowsiness is coming over me more rapidly than I’d anticipated. Plus, it’s after eleven o’clock, and I want to again be up by five AM in order to be on the trainer. Unlike today’s & Tuesday’s sessions, though, this will be a ProRide in SYSTM; RGT on Tuesday and Zwift this morning has left me a little “meh” for riding in virtual worlds.

Right, so bedtime. Words are hard to wrap my brain around just now, so it’s best for us all that this ends here. As always, though, thanks for reading.


Anniversary Eve

I did not make this morning’s 5 AM trainer session.

Instead, I was successful in not only sleeping in and avoiding a semi-scheduled workout but also in giving others in my cycling circle advice on indoor trainers & training programs, neither of which proved popular among others in the cycling circle. But I know it works for me…when I actually use it.

Looking back a dozen plus one years ago, and I’m not sure if previous me would recognize present me. I was a very different person in so many respects, one of them being that I was single. At least for the next few hours.

Tomorrow, December 6th, is my 13th wedding anniversary to Nicholle. It’s her anniversary to me, too—and for the same number of years, if you can believe that!—but, rather than wax nostalgic and get all sympathetic, I’ve been thinking about the changes that married couples go through after a dozen or more years together but especially the changes in my own life, in our lives, in our relationship.

Rumors had it that some said we wouldn’t make it a year or another year after that one and so on. Despite—or maybe because of what happened with Nicholle’s diagnosis with MS 13 months after marrying one another—we’re still together and probably stronger than we would have been under different circumstances. Sure, she depends on me for so much of day-to-day life, but I depend on her as my bedrock. She keeps me grounded, keeps me focused on the realities of life.

There are no more weekends dashing one place or another for one race or another. While I do miss the thrills of racing and the perks of training (a much slimmer me, for starters), even without Nicholle’s diagnosis and what it’s meant to her with all that she’s lost, there’s so much for me to do at home that does not involve swimming or cycling or running. But I wouldn’t give any of this up for the opportunity to go galavant and play triathlete or bike racer or marathon pacer, no matter how exhausted being caretaker and spouse and dad and teacher in today’s climate makes me. Because I wouldn’t be me—I’d be that previous version of me who lacked the vision, lacked the ability to be all he needed to be. Heck, I lack a lot of that now, but what I do have was well worth the trade for whatever times I used to post, whatever milage I used to accrue. The fact remains that I can still crank out miles at a respectable pace, a respectable wattage, and I can do it all under and/or after what life continues to deal me.

While I may sometimes bemoan what has befallen us, I know we have to push on. It’s what we do, it’s what we’ve always done. Before it was through a race course, fighting for whatever finishing time we could muster. Now, it’s fighting for whatever scraps of life we’re able to live for one another, even if it is just making it through the perils of the day without going crazy.

It’s been an incredible thirteen years. I’m very much looking forward to what the next year and the years to come bring for our marriage, for our family. Naturally, I’ll keep you updated on what that is, so keep checking back as you can or are otherwise inclined.

Until then, thanks for reading.


One Hundred Years

NaNoWriMo wrapped a little over a week ago, but I didn’t write a single word for its 2022 running. In fact, I’ve written precious little since NaNoWriMo came to a close in 2021. It’s not that the much-embellished yarn of my neighbor’s cat exhausted me and all I had to say; rather, it’s been a question of pairing the right mindset with the needed amount of time to pry thoughts from mind and put them to words on a screen.

It’s currently a quarter past eleven in the evening, and I should have been asleep an hour ago in order to be ready to rise in time to be on the bike trainer by five, but I wanted to commit, first to writing something down because I feel like I need to. I owe it to myself (and my three followers here on WordPress, I suppose) to do better and avoiding doom scrolling through the hellscapes that all social media channels have become—except for Strava, of course, but there’s only so much scrolling that can be done there. Plus, I wanted to break in the new keyboard I finally convinced myself to buy in order to use my iPad as I had initially planned to when I bought it…nearly five years ago.

Ubotie’s keyboard has a nice-ish feel to its keystrokes but falls short of the tactile efficiency of Apple-branded keyboards. Its size and style and price, however, made it an attractive enough of a purchase, and it at least has me typing in bed by low lamplight as I had envisioned happening. All that’s missing are the sounds of wind and rain outside my window.

I’ve started & restarted this paragraph nearly a dozen times over the past several minutes, with pauses growing longer before each introduction. The pressure on my forehead tells me that it’s time to abandon this, turn out the lights, and go to sleep. The alarm clock will be sounding wretchedly soon enough, and then there’s still the responsibilities of being dad, caretaker, and schoolteacher awaiting me on the other side of the bike trainer.

This hasn’t been much, but—after what feels like one hundred years since writing anything resembling substance—I’ll call it a start.

Thanks for reading.


Keiser Söze

Sometime in late 2020, I joined the Flogging Pit, a beta tester group for my training app-of-choice, The Sufferfest. Longtime readers (do I have any of those?) know I have talked a lot about SUF on here, and I’ve no intentions of stopping, even if it only exists now as a “channel” of a larger collective.

When I joined, they were working towards something big for the near future: A redesign of everything. later to be revealed by their purchase by Wahoo Sports, who would rebrand The Sufferfest as Wahoo SYSTM and eventually Wahoo X, following their additional acquisition of RGT. But I digress.

In early 2020, Nicholle purchased a Keiser M7i elliptical, unique in its design in that it allows wheelchair users to stay in their wheelchairs while exercising. It is billed as a “Total Body Wheelchair Stepper,” though still stubbornly refer to it as an elliptical. Regardless of name, with the M7i, the user’s feet get strapped into foot straps rotating in an ellipses (See? Elliptical.), while the wheelchair itself is secured to the elliptical using a locking hook system with locking, retractable straps. Arms help with putting & keeping things in motion.

With a relatively low profile, the Kesier M7i takes up precious little space in a bedroom.

In addition to a traditional cardio exercise display, the M7i also features Bluetooth connectivity, presumably for just connecting a BLE (Bluetooth low energy) heartrate monitor. But, under closer inspection, it is actually capable of much, much more.

The M7i’s display in ID mode for setting up advanced connectivity.

From the beginning, Nicholle loved what the M7i allowed her to do, with relative independence. As it was positioned, she could watch a TV, listen to music, and just kind of lose herself in the motion of exercise. But I thought there could be more. After all, if apps such as SYSTM existed to connect to smart trainers to make indoor cycling more enjoyable, shouldn’t those same apps not be able to connect to any other indoor fitness device?

The process would prove more challenging than initially expected since available third party devices such as speed/cadence sensors and footpods did not work terribly well with ellipticals; the very design of ellipticals is so vastly different in how it functions to record data—especially power. Keiser, though they make power meter adapters for their indoor exercise bikes, does not make one compatible with the M7i, nor did they seem terribly interested in doing so. Despite making an excellent inclusionary piece of hardware, this lacking piece of circuitry & code excluded a demographic already largely excluded from so much from getting more use, more joy out of their routine.

This did not sit well with me.

One night this past January, I posted a part rant, part plea to the Flogging Pit (FP), asking for a feature request to add ellipticals to work with SYSTM. What I got was more than I could have hoped for.

It didn’t take long before someone in the FP named Paulo chimed in that he was willing to help from across the pond in Portugal. A programmer by training & trade, Paulo was keen on the idea of not only helping my wife get going in SYSTM but also with how quickly he could complete a project like this.

Within seemingly no time, Paulo had assembled a proposal, including parts and requirements on both our parts. He had already obtained from Keiser a development kit and emulator from the manufacturer to simulate on his computer what a real M7i elliptical would act like when interacting with BLE sensors. He had begun generating code within a couple of hours.

First draft of code Paulo threw together while I was still loafing on my sofa.

A plan was put in place to use a pair of M5 stacks (ATOM Lite ESP32s would fit the bill, one for power emulation and one to send/receive data) with Paulo tending to the coding on his end and me dumping his firmware onto the M5s on mine. The biggest setback was the time involved in receiving the M5s from the manufacturer due to supply chain, shipping, or whatever issues there were. Yet, all told, within six weeks, hardware & software were ready for launch.

Except that I sucked at getting the M5s to sync up with my hardware and hit some other snags most easily attributed to general inexperience, incompetence, or what-have-you.

After a series of failures to understand what, exactly was going on on my end, we finally found success in getting the firmware installed and pairing up with the actual M7i.

A very ugly video edit, but it accomplished what it needed to.

Following this, we were able to figure out that SYSTM had some security issues when it came to MacOS and the M5 stacks, but Zwift worked just fine.

Zwift recognized the Keiser M7i (Nicknamed Keiser Söze because what else should it have been called?) right away.
Power & cadence were captured from the M5 stacks.
Using my old Zwift profile (and Tron bike), Nicholle was rolling from the comfort of her own wheelchair. Even if she appeared as a guy.

Once Nicholle was rolling in Zwift, the project was essentially finished from Paulo’s side of things. There’s still the hope that another set of M5s (still sitting in an envelope on a bedside table) can be set up to emulate a footpod for running in Zwift (Nicholle was always more of a runner than a cyclist, anyway), but, in the interim, there’s still the option of cycling in Zwift. (RGT, now part of the Wahoo family, seems to have the same issue that SYSTM does, in that Keiser Söze is detected but does not receive [or at least act on] data to put the avatar in motion.)

Right now, the M5s are plugged in to a mini USB hub, itself connected to a port on a charger. They rest easy on a nightstand and have no issues when the cat knocks them down, causing them to dangle over the edge; the entire setup is little more than a few grams.

Needing little power and having excellent transmission range in the house, the setup gets signal to the Apple TV setup in the room where the Keiser elliptical resides, allowing for a quick, easy setup to get moving each evening when I help Nicholle get strapped in for her sessions of ten minutes or more.

The whole process took roughly two months to complete, working around my & Paulo’s own jobs and lives in general on separate sides of the Atlantic. Just as Nicholle refuses to be stopped by everything MS throws her way—and MS does throw a lot—the process helped demonstrate to me and to the Flogging Pit community that we all have talents and can accomplish great things when we working together and communicating effectively.

We like to think of technology as anything with a circuit board and/or using software. But technology is really just the application of science—of knowledge—to solve a problem. Though this particular problem is quite unique and for a very specific audience, the joy it’s brought to a special someone in my own life is beyond measure.

Thanks for reading.


Varying Degrees

The idea for writing this first occurred to me in August of 2020, but it’s taken me until mid-May of 2022 to finally put the thoughts into words into sentences. Some things just take a bit of time.

Like my going to college—the first time.

College was just something that had not figured into much of the equation for my young life. No one in my family I knew had graduated college, and friends whose parents had been never talked with me about it. All I knew of college was the pictures of Texas A&M University adorning the walls of the pool room at the Floyd’s house. The whole process of applying and getting in and finding something to do with the rest of one’s life was as foreign to me as another continent—of another planet for that matter.

It had never occurred to me to ask my teachers because why would I? At that point I didn’t even know all of them had been, and, again, it never occurred to me to ask.

So I graduated high school in ignorance of post-secondary education and went off to join the Marines. It was there, at MCRD San Diego, that the bug was really planted by the base commander who lectured me and the other washouts who were cleaning his office one night that we should take the opportunity of getting out so young and to go to college.

(Because I, at the know-it-all age of 18, had told those at MCRD that I would not, in fact, change my MOS to marching band [instead of air traffic control] despite their insistence that I would—and that my JROTC paper work had not been forwarded, so my pay was half of what it was supposed to be—I was discharged as “failure to adapt to military lifestyle.” It is my greatest shame and my second-biggest mistake.)

Within a short amount of time I had enrolled in a community college, taking a few classes, but I was still as lost as I had been in high school, so I dropped out in nearly no time until L— convinced me to re-enroll and take classes with her at Palo Alto Community College. She even helped me pass the maths section of the requisite test with extensive tutoring so that I could stay in college and start to find my way as a major in the management of information systems.

After several starts and stops with classes due to failed attempts to salvage my young marriage, I finally found my footing in August of 1998, finishing a summer semester with all As and thinking I knew how to go about things.

Then the shooting at Columbine High School happened in April of 1999, and I found myself dropping the MIS degree plan and going solely for a degree in English with the intent to teach at the secondary level. (I had added English as a second major at the behest of my Freshman Comp II professor, Dr. Raphael Castillo. He was & remains one of my favorite teachers ever, in the company of Mr. Jim Thompson, my 11th grade English teacher.)

My first degree was the associate’s in arts with a focus in English, which allowed me to transfer to the University of Texas at San Antonio. The newly-opened Texas A&M campus in San Antonio was not just yet offering English degrees, so it was off to the north side of San Antonio with me.

And it was a great school with great people and experiences and all the other trappings of college life, save that of parties and dorm life and the like. And it was cheaper than TLU, where I had contemplated switching to after my first semester at UTSA.

My college experience was atypical in those and many other regards, but it was one I don’t think I would have traded for anything. It kept me busy, engaging my mind in myriad ways until I graduated with a BA in English in the spring of 2003. I began teaching English the following year, first at a middle school across town and then, a couple of years later, at the high school level in the district of the community where I had grown up and still lived.

In the summer of 2010, I found myself sitting in the office of one of the district’s instructional technologists who was away on holiday, tending to something involving removable media (what escapes memory but is inconsequential, I’m sure) and found myself gazing at his master’s degree in instructional technology hanging on the wall of his office. After completing my first Ironman in Coure de’Alene, Idaho, the previous summer, I had mulled over what my next challenge should be and had decided on graduate school, though not in school administration or leadership; I should play to my strengths. Scott’s diploma hanging on the wall solidified my decision to aim for instructional technology, as well. So I did.

Three years, a new house, one kid, and another Ironman later, I had my own master’s degree from Texas A&M Kingsville. Landing a position where I could put the degree to its fullest use (having a master’s degree, alone, earned a little pay increase from the school district) would prove significantly more challenging and time-consuming.

The first serious prospect (and offer) was from the Texas A&M School of Pharmacy, also housed on the campus in Kingsville. Unlike my degree plan, however, that was completely remote—my first time on campus was for commencement—the position with the School of Pharmacy would require a relocation to Kingsville, something we, as a family, could not commit to given the proximity of quality care for Nicholle’s MS progression, to say nothing of the challenges awaiting us as vegetarians living in a community thriving on barbecue.

Other interviews from local entities, including my own district, yielded no success other than experience with interviews. I kept just coming up short with successfully landing a position to make full use of my degrees, both of which hung in nice frames, complete with anti-glare glass.

When I moved into a classroom in the main building of my alma mater and teaching home, instructions were made that any decorations should be hung on the wall using Command hooks from 3M to avoid damaging paint or whatnot. So I hung my stuff, including my framed diplomas, on the wall using Command hooks on the wall at the back of the classroom. It was on the same wall as the door, which would prove to have disastrous results.

Between the weight of the frames and the minute vibrations of the wall each time the classroom door closed (or lockers on the other side of the wall slammed shut), the Command hooks simply failed, and my diplomas came smashing down as I set up my classroom for the year one August afternoon in 2020.

A smashing failure of varying degrees.

I found the results telling about where I was in my life, personally and professionally. Like many middle-aged men, my life was not turning out quite like I had anticipated—certainly not as I had planned, and, as a Type A person, I was quite the planner. The shattered glass just seemed to solidify the notion that I had set out to do would not come to pass.

Two years and change later, such is still the case—most recently failing even to gain even an interview for an instructional technologist position, despite meeting or exceeding every one of the minimum & preferred qualifications posted.

As a teacher, I endeavor to help my students find their way and find answers to questions they may not know to ask. I make every effort I can to help them avoid the mistakes I made in high school, but, as one who—in regards to age and other attributes—on par with many of my students’ parents, “getting through” provides its own challenges.

But still I try. Just as I continue to try to find a way to make continued use of my BA in English and (especially) my MS in instructional technology.

But perhaps it’s merely time to truly follow the advice of one older and wiser than I.

Thanks for reading.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Thirty.

Before the incident in the pond, Cody had been feeling more invincible than the average cat.

He had journeyed the farthest from home he ever had and found shelter—with some help. He had made friends across species and learned to forage when food was scarce—with some help. He had defeated a powerful, fearsome foe—with some help. And he had escaped drowning in a muddy pool—with some help.

As fiercely independent as he liked to think he was, every element of his journey to confront and defeat the owl—and its epilogue—were all only possible because of assistance from others. Even the food he had learned to forage from the trash was there because of others. He and his raccoon friends were just doing their part to help keep more from going into landfills.

Cody had truly come to enjoy it in this wooded eden, but as a cat that couldn’t swim or do much else entirely on his own, and he could not distract himself from it. He came to recognize his utter dependence on others for even the simplest of things it seemed, and this notion bored into his brain as he slinked back from the site of his near-drowning, fur still soaked and muddied. As he stopped to again shake himself, recognition of the fact that he would never be completely cleansed from this baptism in the woods sank in. He knew that he needed to go back home. He knew he would have to leave soon. He didn’t know how many of his nine lives he had left.

Cody also did not know how long he had been gone. It was long enough to have been trapped by snow and have it melt, making the earth again warm and wet and viridescent. Dozens of sunrises and sunsets were entirely plausible, and he found himself nervous of if his person would even accept him back into the home. And then what? Back to waiting for food, he guessed. Sure, it could grow irksome if he had played particularly hard that morning or evening, but at least the presence of food was reliable.

And maybe he would still get to venture outside every now and again. Perhaps take a day trip with Fenswick someplace?

The possibilities seemed very likely and very real, so he set it in his mind he would leave at the next sunrise. One last evening with the raccoons and Fenswick before departing home.

At last, he was at the park, and found the raccoons having their picnic from the remains of the birthday picnic that had been held there a few hours earlier. Ralph and Roderick were on the ground, gorging themselves on cantelope while Reginald, and Regina were both buried in the trashcan up to their haunches, legs hooked around the rim for support. While the other two munched, they continued to dig out more than half of a birthday cake and a seemingly endless quantity of torn hamburger and hotdog buns.

“Yes, my fellow veiled varmints—I have it!” Reginald exclaimed, emerging with a broken sphere covered in colorful crêpe. “I give you: The piñata!”

Regina brought herself up out of the trashcan, huffing excitedly, “Oh, you have it, do you? All by yourself, then?”

“Well, Regina,” Reginald began, pausing to choose his words carefully, “you see, it’s—oh, good heavens, what happened to you?”

He dropped the piñata back into the trash and hopped down, scampering across the ground to Cody.

“Dear Cody, what on earth happened?” Reginald was shocked and concerned to see that cat covered in drying mud, matted and sticky in various patches on its body.

“I’m fine, Reg,” Cody said, stopping to vainly lick the bits of fur he could reach. “I just lost my balance and fell into a pool between two boulders.”

“I told you going into that part of the woods was not a good idea,” Roderick said, shaking a small piece of cantelope at the cat.

“You did?” the other three raccoons inquired at the same moment.

“Well, not in those exact words,” replied Roderick, “but I did say he should stick with us.”

“That you did, Roderick,” said Cody. “That you did. And I’m afraid I have some more bad news,” he began.

“Wait, where’s Fenswick?” asked Reginald, again alert and looking about in worry. “He didn’t fall in with you, did he?”

“No, no,” Cody said, calming Reginald. “He’s still napping in the persimmon tree near the pond. I think he’s come to claim that as his own after we evicted that owl.”

“There was no ‘we,’ Cody,” said Ralph. “You did that all on your own.”

“No, no…” said Cody trailing off with his words.

“But you did,” Regina said, reassuringly. “We were all there.”

“No,” Cody said, more firmly this time. “That’s just it: You were all there. You, Fenswick, Whale—”

“Whale?” inquired all four raccoons in unison.

“There’s a whale living in our woods?” Roderick asked, peering around Cody, almost expecting to see a hundred ton whale hiding behind a tree.

Cody chuckled, “No, not a whale. Whale was the name I gave the turtle that saved me from drowning earlier today.”

“Ohhhh,” the raccoon quartet said, understanding Cody.

“It just made me realize that I’m unable to really do anything on my own, and I think it best that I head back to my person,” continued Cody. “And my person’s home. I just hope to still have a home there.” He sounded said.

“Well, dear Cody,” began Reginald, sniffling a bit, “you’ll always have a home here with us.

“Here, here!” piped up Roderick and Regina.

“Fine,” muttered Ralph. “Here, here.”

Roderick brought them all back to focus: “Then let’s get that piñata out from the confines of the trashcan and have ourselves one grand celebration!”

“Hurrah!” they all shouted.

“Hurrah!” said Fenswick. “What happened to you, Cody? And what are we celebrating?”

“Fenswick, my friend,” said Cody, “I had a bit of a spill and subsequent epiphany. Come, let me tell you all about it over whatever this is that Reginald and Regina have just pulled out of the trash.”

As the sun set, the animals continued to feast, including Fenswick, safe in the company of his friends, comfortable in the knowledge than an owl would not be swooping down to clutch him away from all that he loved.

The morning sun spread its brilliance across Cody’s face through the shudders. The warmth of the sunlight—muted through special film the humans had put on the windows somewhat recently—was still pleasing and reminded him of his months spent in the wilderness with a squirrel and four raccoons. And a whale of a turtle, too.

His roommates didn’t believe a word of his story—how he had not only learned to speak squirrel but had also made friends with one and journeyed far from their home to live among raccoons, surviving a snowstorm, and fight an owl only to later almost drown and be saved by a turtle—preferring to tease that Cody had been picked up by animal control. They further teased that the person of the house had been oblivious to his absence, but Cody knew that wasn’t true. He had seen the paper rectangles with his picture and words and numbers plastered all around the neighborhood when he and Fenswick had entered, as well as in the house. Dozens of extra copies were still in the room with all the books, ready to be sent to the far reaches of the suburbs, all in the hopes of finding a single cat.

All of this brought Cody happiness in the ensuing days when he thought of adventures to be had out of doors and sadness poked its head about. But the best happiness came the following evening, which was remarkable cool for so late in the spring. Cody was in a windowsill, watching shadows grow and cover the back yard just as the snow had covered the wooded area in the wake of the disappearance of his bunny, of the finding of the feather and half-a-doughnut, of the befriending of a squirrel, when a flash of contrasting brown against the khaki of the fenceposts caught his eye and riveted his attention: A bunny.

It wasn’t the same bunny as before—Cody knew that. But it was a bunny, and it was his to watch and love and enjoy. He knew that, too.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-nine.

The snow stuck around for far longer than the animals—or the humans, for that matter—could have imagined. A day turned into another day and then another and so on until an entire week had passed. Seven full days and nights with almost no sun and not one but two periods of rapidly falling snow covering the frozen woods.

Eventually, though, the snow did melt away, just as the owl had seemed to do as it was absorbed by the clouds as it flew out of sight. In the time thereafter, Cody, Fenswick, and the nursery of raccoons were all but inseparable, caring for one another either by finding food or drink or working to expand the shelter beneath the rocks.

As the sun returned, Cody chose not to go back to his home just yet. He was enjoying himself in the wild, joining the raccoons as they rummaged through trashcans and discovering he really enjoyed gnawing on plastic grocery bags. It felt nice on his teeth and gums while also allowing him to relish the flavors absorbed by the bags, although he did soon learn to avoid those smelling of peppers; they were a touch too spicy for his liking, especially when water was as far away as the pond.

Despite the owl having taken leave from the area, Cody and his brood seldom went to the pond save to saturate their respective thirsts when other water sources were not to be found—or to ensure the owl was keeping up with his end of the bargain.

It was on one of these ventures to the pond that Cody inquired of the raccoons what was beyond the pond, past the persimmon tree where the owl had nested.

“Why would you want to know that, old chap?” inquired Reginald in between gulps of water from the pond’s edge. “No one liked to look at the tree let alone past it.”

“No one but us, you mean? Right, then, Reg?” butted in Roderick. “But as I understand it,” he began speaking in a lower, more hushed tone to get Cody’s attention, “it’s naught but loose rocks leading to a massive stony surface where the foul creatures lurk: Snakes and the like. Some say the owl was the guardian and gatekeeper of that place. Bugger of a bird as it was, it kept the truly bad things out.”

Silence hung in the air, heavier than the humidity, recently returned after its winter sabatical.


Everyone turned to look at Ralph, propped up on his hind legs, his tongue still hanging out of his mouth following its rude eruption.

“You can’t honestly believe that spooky nonsense Roderick is trying to get you to believe, can you?” Ralph asked. “I mean, come on. We live in the wild, for crying out loud.”

“Ralph, you’re letting him get you all riled up again,” said Regina, shaking her head in disbelief. “Come on, we should start heading towards the park. The birthday party we heard earlier should be wrapped up, and those trash cans will be brimming with refuse.”

“Pip-pip! Off we go then,” Roderick said, ushering a giggling Reginald along with him.

“You go explore wherever you want, Cody,” said Ralph. “We know you’re the bravest thing to come into these woods in a very long time. But don’t dally too long. You know how the rest of the nursery is about saving the good bits of trash for latecomers.” And he turned to walk off, following his friends to the park.

Cody ventured up to and then beyond the persimmon tree, casting a glance upwards to see Fenswick fast asleep in a nook. The wounds the owl had given him had healed up nicely, now appearing only as a series of dark dots on his fur, spaced precisely to match owl talons. Fortunately, nothing internal was wounded.

From the shade of the trees, Cody found himself in a broad, rocky area. There was loose shale stones compacted title in a path where the creek had forced such closeness. Higher up was a seeming sea of stone, vast and warm, flowing as though with ripples, fashioned by centuries of periodic running water followed by baking in the near-constant sun. Pocks here and there caught the cat’s attention, and tried to investigate each, but they simply were too many.

Curiosity of the holes in the stony surface on which he walked momentarily satisfied, Cody carried on to the west, following the sun, still high in the sky. He found himself higher up and was about to attempt a leap to another high bit of land across a chasm of a few feet. But just as he tightened his muscles to spring, the dirt and bits beneath his forepaws gave way and he fell eight to ten feet down into water.

Landing with a splash, Cody hissed and attempted to cry out but was unable: He had sunk beneath the surface of the water collected there.

A small pool of water—remnants from the last flash flood through the area a fortnight or so ago—proved to be large enough, deep enough to swallow a cat whole. The mud from the rocks holding the water clouded the water so that only ripples were visible of the struggle taking place within the confines of the water. Not even the turtle making its way across the pond was perceivable, neither from above nor from within the pool.

Counterintuitively, the turtle swam towards the source of the disturbance and somehow positioned himself as something to help stabilize the thrashing limbs of the cat, eventually buoying it back to the surface and then to the edge of the pool. Cody had clutched onto the edges of the turtle’s slick shell, with only one paw attached to something that did not feel natural but was secured firmly to the turtle’s shell, just above where his head poked out.

“Oh, hi, there,” said the turtle as it crawled over a narrow bridge of water where the pool that had swallowed Cody joined with another. “Golly, I didn’t expect to find a cat in my pool here.”

Cody said nothing, nor did he move, petrified as he was at having so narrowly escaped drowning.

“Say,” continued the turtle, swimming at the surface of the next, smaller pool, his head and shell still above water, “I don’t suppose you’re that cat the killed that owl are you?”

“No,” began Cody, slowly finding his voice. “I mean, no, I didn’t kill the owl. I just attacked and threatened it because it was trying to eat one of my friends.”

“Oh,” replied the turtle. “Well, I suppose that makes for a pretty good story, too.”

“My name is Cody,” said the cat. “What’s your name?”

“Name?” asked the turtle. “Not sure if I have one, kind of like that squirrel I hear you run around with.”

“I need to call you something because I need to know whom to thank for saving my life,” said Cody, more humbly than he’d ever spoken to anyone, including Fenswick.

“So give me a name, then, cat,” said the turtle. He had reached the opposite edge of the pool, where he crawled onto muddy land to deposit his passenger. “What do you want to call me?”

“I…I don’t know,” said Cody, “but you saved me, just like the story of a whale and some guy who had fallen in the ocean. My person had read that one aloud quite a bit.”

“Whale, huh,” chuckled the turtle. “I suppose that’s good enough, then. I like the sound of Whale better than turtle, anyway. Sounds far more majestic, you know?”

“Yes, sure. ‘Whale,’ then,” said Cody. “Thank you, Whale of the Deep Pool.”

“Hehehe,” Whale the turtle laughed. “Well, thank you, cat. Say, you know it’s safe enough to step off my shell, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Cody, rather sheepishly. The turtle’s shell was surprisingly comfortable, but he know he had to be on his way to the park. Raccoons seldom saved even the third best pieces of trash for anyone, even if they did defeat the nemesis of small furry creatures everywhere.

Cody began to step off, his forepaw on the unnatural feeling bit of shell near the turtle’s neck. A package of chewing gum had somehow been firmly attached to the shell, providing Cody a safe spot for traction and grip. He strained hard to see what it was, seeing seven letters, bold and thick in their appearance, despite being faded from alternating exposure to sun and water:


Huh, thought Cody. I wonder what that says.

Whale said another goodbye and disappeared beneath the surface of another muddy pool. Cody was left alone to pick his way back to the pond, being cautious to avoid any other risks of falling into too-deep of water.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-eight.

The world outside the raccoon’s hovel was vast and white. Only trees and the tallest weeds perforated the deep drifts of snow, deeper than this area had seen in any living creature’s lifetime. Fenswick hopped over to join his friends who had sunk down into the soft-packed snow but had worked to clear an area that was wide enough and seemingly safe enough for the party to gather.

“I’m hungry,” said Cody to no one in particular.

“Well, cat” began Reginald, “I’ve no idea how we’ll find a trash can in all this confection. Besides, my paws are freezing.”

“As are mine,” agreed Roderick. The two were back to being sounding boards of one another’s arrogant statements, each not only reinforcing but also trying to subtly outdo the other.

“Perhaps we could find some nuts or berries or something,” suggested Ralph. “The movement would keep blood circulating to our paws and through our core, helping us to stay warm.”

Fenswick perked up at the suggestion of nuts and berries. As the smallest, the lightest of the group—and the one least dependent on the refuse of others—he again found himself in a unique spot to help his friends.

Scampering across the snow to the nearest fruit-bearing tree—a fig tree with roots near the top of a hill, placing it higher than trees in the lower places—and began collecting the small, edible bits to which the tree had continued to cling since spring and summer to ferry back to his friends. This he did repeatedly, neatly dropping them in the bowled area the raccoons had fashioned for their picnic in the snow. Cody, however, was uninterested in the fig bits, instead finding a dark speck in the snow and digging it out—a small mouse, caught in the snow drifts, finding death in snow and ice before it could find shelter from the same. Cody gnawed on the frozen mass of fur until the heat from his breath and saliva had sufficiently thawed the poor creature for him to pick it apart, eating it greedily but slowly enough so as to not upset his tummy. One of the other cats at his person’s house often ate so ravenously it would soon throw up what it had just consumed. With food so scarce out here in the wild and further so in the snow and ice that had enveloped them all, Cody did not want to take any chances with his meal. He paused, mid-munch to glance back at the group and found them staring at him.

“Mwhat?” Cody asked as the remains of the mouse fell from his mouth and plopped into the snow.

There was no response from any of them, save Regina who uttered the single word “disgusting” before returning to her meager meal of figs and whatever else Fenswick had brought them. The squirrel was off a bit from the others, forming a third point of the triangle of animals eating their respective meals. Unlike the raccoons, the squirrel still preferred to munch on his meals alone. They soon found out how not alone the group was out in the open, though.

With a flash of brown from above and a shriek from ground level, the raccoons soon saw Fenswick began to be lifted from the ground as though he had sprouted enormous wings just like those of an—

“OWL!” Roderick cried out as they all instinctively ducked.

But across from the bowl where they had only moments ago been enjoying brunch, a streak of orange flashed across the snow at a sharp angle and broke the owl and the squirrel apart from one another. Fenswick dropped to the snow, a mass of brown fur marred by pinpricks of blood where the owl’s claws had dug into his sides to lift him into the air.

The owl lay a few feet away, attempting to flap its wings but failing to gain purchase of air but catching nothing but wet powder. Circling the lump of a body and flailing wings and legs was—in contrast to the brilliance of the perfectly white snow—was a concentration of orange fire, tail twitching, fore- and hind legs slowly emerging before re-centering to the mass in the middle as though flickers of flame.

“How DARE you!” growled Cody, his eyes locked on the owl as it tried to regain its composure, reassert its position as the top predator, the top force in this realm.

The eyes of the raccoons were wide in observance in the scene before them, their bodies as frozen as the landscape about them. Finally, Reginald nudged Roderick and the two of them hurried to Fenswick. Reginald tucked the squirrel under his mass of fur and made for the hole in the snow, wherever it was; they had lost it in the mass of white.

“Over here, Reg!” cried out Roderick. He had located the hole, partially collapsed where the still hidden but still warm sun had melted the outermost snow.

“Come on, then. There’s a good chap,” Reginald said in efforts to soothe and comfort the wounded squirrel. “Let’s get you back down where it’s safer and warmer. I think that cat of yours has things up top under control.”

Reginald and Roderick disappeared down the hole, ushering Fenswick to safety. Moments later, they were both back on the surface to see what had happened.

The owl had managed to get itself somewhat upright, but its wings had gathered too much snow, causing the feathers to stick together, keeping it from taking flight. Its comically long legs had sunk deep into the soft snow and its endeavors to paddle itself back up were in utter vain. The panicked motion had caused it to sink further down into the snow and in its position as intimidating predator.

“Hoo,” it said.

“Cody,” replied the cat, misunderstanding the pathetic sound coming from the defeated owl.

“Bested by an idiot of a cat,” muttered the owl, finally ceasing motion.

“Idiot,” repeated Cody. “Who’s the one with his skinny long legs sunk down in the snow, unable to take flight?”

“My unfortunate situation does not denote my intelligence, cat,” said the owl, moving its head an impossibly long way one way and another.

The owl’s head rotation disturbed the raccoons but intrigued the cat. He playfully reached out to touch a tuft of the feathers that served as one of the great horned owl’s “horns.”

“Stop that!” shouted the owl.

“Huh,” said Cody. Ignoring the owl’s demand, he touched the tufts again and again. “Guys, they’re not really horns! They’re just feathers. It’s like this thing’s a flying pillow or something.” He squinted his eyes as a grin for a moment before the mass of the owl’s feathered wing smacked Cody across the face, knocking him down into the snow.

The owl had managed to take to the air and flapped its way to the top of a pecan tree.

“Insufferable, idiotic feline,” grumbled the owl. Its eyes were enormous plates of green, pricks of black in the center bearing down hard on the orange lump of fur that was Cody. “You were fortunate for a moment, cat, but I am the top predator around here, and you are but an intruder in my—”

For the second time today, the owl had been caught off guard. Daytime was certainly not its thing.

The owl flapped its wings to try and gain flight but the high snowdrifts made the ground too close for the wings to do as intended. As it fell into the snow, it managed to see what had it its second bout of humiliation.

Fenswick clung to the thin bits of tree with his claws, his heart racing faster than ever before as the main branch swayed in the wind. He flicked his tail to help maintain his balance.

Before the owl could bring itself upright, it felt a singular point of pressure then another, followed by a larger, heavier mass weighting him down. The cat’s tail curled around its sitting body as it slowly extended its claws into the owl’s chest.

“Hi, again,” said Cody. “You were saying something about being top critter around here?”

The owl just stared at the cat. How did he managed to get bested twice—or was it three times?—in just a few minutes? Had he lost his touch?

“Oh, you were finished? Great. Then let me provide a counterargument to what you’ve had to say: Your days of picking on squirrels and…and…BUNNIES are over!” He paused a moment to reflect on whether or not he had been too overly emotional. “You’re going to use this opportunity to use those big wings of yours to lift your feathery butt up into the air and out of here. Forever.”

The raccoons came and peered down around the ring of snow, grinning at the owl.

“Hello, feathery sir. You remember us, right?” asked Roderick.

“You see,” Reginald continued for his friend, “you’ll remember that we remember where it is you live. And, while we’re not as quick in the night as our feline friend here, we are more adept in the daylight hours when you like to sleep. When you’re particularly vulnerable. Like now.”

All four raccoons bared their teeth in a grin.

“So,” Cody said, “what do you say, owl?”

“I…I suppose I can find another place to hunt,” stammered the owl at last. “Someplace far from here.”

“Yes,” said Cody, “far from here. And no matter where that is, you’ll never touch another bunny again. Ever. Because you know word will reach me, and you know that I know how to find you. Because my friends and I are—” he paused and took his off the owl, looking at each of the raccoons and then Fenswick, still clinging safely to the pecan tree—”resourceful.”

“Agreed,” said the owl. “Agreed. I yield my claim to these woods and will depart at once. Or once you take your claws out of my feathers.”

Slowly, Cody retracted his claws and hopped off the owl’s body and out onto the snow. It was softening, and the wet slush saturated his fur. He found some rock in the melt and perched above it, waiting for the owl to emerge. At last it did, taking flight in a wide circle before disappearing into the retreating clouds.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-seven.

Daybreak came later than usual. Heavy clouds amassed overhead, simulating the scene below; snow had piled upon the land below then piled upon itself until all was covered in white.

“I’m not touching the stuff any longer; my paws are freezing.”

Reginald was in a bit of a mood as he made his way to the back of his home.

Regina took a turn at trying to dig their way out, but everywhere outside of the entrance was wet, white powder. She couldn’t even tell which way to dig or how far. Sighing, she, too, made her way back into the hovel.

One by one, the raccoons had tried to dig their way out of the hovel, but to no avail. Their digging proved fruitless at doing nothing more than shoveling snow into their home. The weight of the snow above collapsed the meager tunnel that had been attempted by each of them. Even Ralph, the seeming expert at anything having to do with the survival and well-being of the nursery, was unable to dig more than a few minutes and make no progress.

As the four raccoons spoke in hushed tones from the back of the hovel about what their next move should be, Cody curled back up to take a nap. During the course of the night, as they warmed one another and attempted to fall asleep, Cody learned more about the owl that had taken to using the pond and its surrounding area as its home and hunting grounds.

The owl had first appeared last winter. The raccoons were uncertain of which direction it had flown in from, but it certainly was quick to craft a nest of sorts, making itself at home.

It preferred to nest in a persimmon tree on the northern end of the shore. Three of the four raccoons found this an odd choice, as the persimmon was far from being the mightiest tree in the forest—something befitting so magnificent a creature as a great horned owl. Only Ralph, in his practicality, recognized why the owl would chose the persimmon.

“The mice like the fruit of the persimmon tree,” he explained. “The pecan tree will only attract a squirrel or two at a time because those guys are super territorial—back me up on this one, Fenswick.”

Fenswick nodded in agreement, really wishing he could sink his teeth into a pecan or even persimmons, dry as they had seemed to him on the rare occasion he had partaken.

“But the mice will keep coming to the persimmon tree,” Ralph went on. “Other rodents and some birds, too. The persimmon tree seemed to have done a good job of hiding this particular owl, because he’s never been run off, and he comes back to that tree every single morning. Heh,” he laughed, “we both seemed to end our evenings around the same time, and at the same place—down at the watering hole.”

While Ralph went on chuckling at his effort at humor, Regina continued on, telling Cody about the owl’s flight and hunting patterns, as well as his other habits. Going off of Ralph’s comment about ending each evening’s hunt for food at the pond, she noted how the owl would both see and acknowledge the presence of the raccoons, almost in either reverence or annoyance at their size at being too big for him to hunt.

“But tonight,” she said, “the owl didn’t do that. I know it saw us—OK, I’m pretty sure it saw us—but it’s like it was intentionally ignoring us. Like we weren’t there. Like it just knew something because…because…oh, heck, I have no idea what goes through the mind of an owl. But it did seem almost mad or disappointed or something at us tonight. Like I said, it knows. It knows something.”

“Of course it does,” chimed in Ralph. “Owls have long been associated with wisdom and knowledge and—”

“And death,” finished Roderick. “We all know what that owl means to the creatures around here. Even us, if we weren’t at our prime, and let’s face it: We are not at our prime just now. We can’t even get out of our home.”

Roderick had barely finished his sentence when a ray of cloud-dulled light broke into the hovel from the front of their home. The four raccoons looked around in surprise and alarm before Cody noticed one of them was missing.

“Ta-da!” exclaimed Fenswick, poking his head into the hovel through hole he had dug. He was greeted with stunned silence.

“How?” asked Reginald. He fumed on, almost in a rage. “How did something so small and and gangly and…and…squirrelly as a…as a squirrel manage to accomplish what I and the rest of this nursery of the most excellent raccoons ever assembled could not?” He paused as Regina put her paw on his neck. Ralph crawled low to the front to investigate what the squirrel had done as he hopped back inside and shook himself, wet with snow. Cody began to lick Fenswick’s fur to warm the rodent, as well as get himself from moisture.

“Because he is so small, Reginald,” Ralph said, poking his head through the small hole. “His anatomy, so different from ours, allowed him to stretch out so long while still digging. His body and constantly twitching tail allowed him to bore this pilot hole through the snow. And now…”

His voice trailed as he poked first his head then then the rest of his body up through the rift in the snowbank that had settled around the rocks serving as the raccoons home. In another minute, he was back inside, again nose first.

“Yes, that does it. I made it to the surface and had a look around.” He as panting, excited rather than exhausted from the bit of exertion. “The rest of you should come up, too.”

“Fenswick?” Reginald said, poking his head first through the snow and then back into the hovel.

“Uh-huh?” said the squirrel, now dried from the care of the cat. Of the four raccoons, Reginald made him the most nervous.

“Thank you. You did what we could not and have improved my opinion of squirrels most certainly,” he finished and then disappeared into the packed snow.

Roderick patted Fenswick’s head before following his best friend up the hold and into the world outside. Ralph gave a sort of “thumbs up” and crawled on up, while Regina just made her way through, figuring her fellow raccoons had said and done enough.

“So, big guy,” Cody said, looking down at the squirrel. “It seems you’re making friends everywhere you go. Good job, Fenswick. Good job.”

Cody looked cautiously at the hole, now greatly enlarged and further compacted by the shuffling of the four raccoons who had blundered their way to the surface, and licked some of the snow. He was horribly thirsty and could not wait to get outside and find some water in liquid form.

Squirrel has done good, the squirrel thought to himself. Wait, no. Not ‘squirrel.’ He stood himself upright and looked around and nodded to himself.

“Fenswick,” he said aloud. His tone was firm and brave. “I, Fenswick the squirrel, has thought of and helped others. I am a good friend.”

Smiling at what he had accomplished over the past few weeks, he clambered up the hole after the raccoons and cat and into what he was certain would be a warm welcome in a cold world.