punctuating the ordinary

“On the single strand of wire strung to bring our house electricity,
grackles and starlings neatly punctuated an invisible sentence.”

―John Updike


(grackles on the line / Julie Cook / 2014)

I imagine it happens to all of us at some point or other…
and it’s always out of the blue…

It catches us totally off guard— when we least expect it.

Suddenly a lump is forming in our throat as we find the words catching, cracking and breaking as we can barely whisper along.

And just when we frustratingly focus on the fact that no sound seems to be
coming from a voice attempting to speak, stinging tears now form in our
eyes, rendering us both mute and almost blind…

Mute and blind with raw emotion.

We blink hard and swallow hard…as we hear our brain pleading “not here, not now….”

Maybe we’re just sitting on the couch…
Maybe we’re walking down the aisle at the grocery store pushing a cart full of
paper towels and cat food…
Maybe we’re sitting in the middle of traffic, stuck…
Maybe we’re sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting….

It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing…it happens…
and it happens when it wants to…never mind what we want.
And there is always some sort of trigger…
as the ordinariness of life is punctured like an over inflated tire…
our breath begins to release as we are helpless to hold it in….

It comes suddenly out of the blue..
Out of nowhere…and there it is…
A familiar sound, a familiar tune, a familiar voice…more oldie then goldie…

For me this time, it was Wichita Lineman and it wasn’t even Glen Campbell
singing the song but rather someone else…

Yet it mattered not—it was still that same melodious memory drifting in on
the passage of time… swirling down on the currents until settling sweetly, yet
painfully, in the recall of memory.

My mother loved Glen Campbell.

What woman in those heady days of the late 60’s didn’t?

Dashing boyish good looks…dimples, perfect hair, sculpted nose,
laced with a velvety voice.
He wasn’t Country, he wasn’t Gospel, he wasn’t Pop…
he was simply the complete package.

I can remember sitting with mother in 1969 on that old tweed couch
watching the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour—
This was a time when children could actually watch television without fear of hearing
or seeing things that children shouldn’t really see or hear emanating
from a television….

The line is iconic…
“and I need you more than want you….
and I want you for all time….
for the Wichita lineman is still on the line…”

…as heart tugging violins finish out the notes….

About two years ago, give or take,
Glen Campbell and his current wife (I say current because he had had four marriages
with one in particular making for tabloid drama) gave what was to be Glen’s
last public interview.

Glen Campbell was suffering from Alzheimers.
A disease that actually claimed his life earlier this year.

The selfish disease was robbing his family of the husband and father they loved
while robbing a man of the one person he’d known best his entire life…
that being himself.

He was asked about singing and his songs— what song had he loved the most….

A question I would think somewhat difficult for any musician / singer,
who had had such long careers, to answer—
As songs and melodies ebb and flow with the times—
Because it’s hard to compare what was a career starter with what came about
during one’s peak moment throughout such a lengthy career…

But he answered quickly and at first very effortlessly…
“it’s really the best line of all time in a song you know…. isn’t it???”
as he then turned to his wife with that lost look of one battling with a
memory-robbing illness, when he sadly and poignantly realized he didn’t
remember now what line he was talking about.

His wife offered a small airy couple of notes with the first word, which allowed
Glen’s mind to grab hold as he finished the stanza himself in beautiful A cappella
fashion.

And it is an iconic line.
A beautiful line.
A line that has for me, over time, changed it’s meaning.

Songs, lyrics and melodies all have that effect on us.

So much so that I think I’ve written about this before—and about this very same
song for most likely the very same reason—

It simply caught me off guard.

It reached out through the abyss of time grabbing hold of my arm while pulling
me to a bittersweet place I don’t often like to go.

The hot tears formed as I attempted to utter those familiar words….but I couldn’t.

I couldn’t even speak the words because they had stuck in my throat…
as they achingly cracked coming from my mouth without sound…

And then slowly…the recesses of a memory came into focus,
I was seeing the one who had first loved that song long before I had.
She had her own personal reasons, her own personal recollections…

Things that, at the time, were unbeknownst to me.
Something that caused an overwhelming sense of melancholy…
Something that had left her with words which had no sound,
something that had left her eyes wet with warm tears…

I had no way of knowing then…no way of understanding…
for I had not lived yet what she had lived…

Yet sweetly and even oddly in that bittersweet moment of hearing that single song
with that most iconic simple lyric, I actually understood what she had known
all those many years ago…as warm tears filled my eyes and the words coming
from my mouth had no sound…I was transported one day closer to understanding
the woman I had lost so long ago…

Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
“The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.

Psalm 102:18-22

there’s always something better

My father said there were two kinds of people in the world:
givers and takers.
The takers may eat better,
but the givers sleep better.

Marlo Thomas

“The greatest need of our age and of every age, the greatest need of every human heart, is to know the resources and sufficiency of God.”
― Albert Benjamin Simpson

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(curious and opportunistic grackles check out the water tub / Julie Cook / 2015)

Having thrown out a bucket of corn for our resident deer, it didn’t take long for the invading passerby grackles to find the golden nuggets dispersed within the grass.
With life having been relatively dry up until the last few days, we’d put out a tub of water for our thirsty four legged friends.

As soon as the grackles approached, ready to descended onto the corn, they first hesitantly and cautiously headed toward the black tub.
A single grackle arrived in order to investigate.
Then a few more appeared hoping no doubt that the big black tub held a treasure trove of corn.
More and more grackles arrived with each new arrivee having to check out the tub for a possible plethora of food–
Obviously not satisfied by the existing kernels scattered throughout the grass.

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(curious and opportunistic grackles check out the water tub / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(curious and opportunistic grackles check out the water tub / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(curious and opportunistic grackles check out the water tub / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(curious and opportunistic grackles check out the water tub / Julie Cook / 2015)

I suppose we’re a lot like the never satisfied grackles, as we often seem to think there is going to be something bigger, better and more which must be lurking elsewhere other than that which has been graciously offered and set before us. It’s as if we are constantly hoping to find that which is easier for the taking and neatly given without our ever having to work for what we get. . .

So it is with this thought in mind that my prayer for today is that we may each stop long enough, taking time from our chaotic lives, to find the gratitude within our hearts for that which we already possess, as well as for that which has been graciously offered and lovingly placed before us. . .all without the expectation and desire of seeking anything else or anything more. . .
May we truly appreciate the effort we exert. . .which in turn,
makes each reward that more sweet. . .

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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

feed the birds

“. . .All it takes is tuppence from you
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag
Feed the birds,” that’s what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies. . .”

Lyrics from Feed the Birds / Mary Poppins

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(no this is not a bird / Julie Cook / 2015)

Tuppence, two pence, pennies on the dollar—that’s what it once cost to feed the birds.
A handful of bread or grain sold by a simple street vendor to be tossed out to the pigeons, who would descend en masse, happily and greedily gobbling up nary last crumb.

Today’s birds seem to have more expensive taste.
Kind of like everyone and everything else these days—some sort of bird inflation I suppose.
I paid $12.99 at Target for a sack of black oiled sunflower seeds this week, that being the sale price. A sack which fills dad’s entire feeder.
I buy my birds the nut and fruit seeds which are even more expensive.

It wouldn’t be any big deal I suppose but it’s a lot more than just birds eating the feed and that sack of Dad’s won’t last 3 days. There will be days that my birds will have to go without as they like to eat me out of house and home. And it wouldn’t be that bad had the grackles not moved in and the raccoons hadn’t figured out how to open all the feeders in the middle of the night cleaning me out of house and home.

But Dad is a different story, his birds may not go without.

I filled his feeder up last Thursday.
The feeder was empty as of Tuesday.

The phone rings and I see it’s dad calling.
I break out in a cold sweat as I fear the worst. . .one of them is down for the count and can’t get up and I need to call an ambulance and come quick.
But yesterday’s call, thankfully, was not that sort of call.

“Julie, when you come up tomorrow, how ’bout picking me up some bird feed, we’re all out”

I bought it yesterday Dad.

“Oh, you’ve got some already?”

Yes Dad, that’s what I said.

“Will you bring it with you?”

Yes Dad, it’s already in the car.

“So you’re bringing it with you?”

YES DAD!

“When are you coming?

TOMORROW. . .

This conversation lasts a while. . .

There are the cute little chipmunks at his house who scurry about on the back porch, below the feeder, scrounging for dropped seed. . . so cute. . .
Or that’s what I thought until I watched the chipmunk scamper scale up the brick, dashing tearing its way up the screen and precariously
jumping onto the feeder. . .Hummmm. . .
What a cleaver little sweet creature. . .hummmmm

“Dad, the chipmunks are climbing the house to get to the bird food. . .
“Oh I know I just love watching them, aren’t they cute. . .
Hummmmm. . .

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(the chipmunk birdseed stealer as seen from Dad’s kitchen window / Julie Cook / 2015)

And yet there are other, more sinister varmints feasting on my hard bought feed.

I was sitting in the den with dad watching one of his never ending 1930 black and white movies when suddenly a loud bamming and booming hits the roof.
KAPOW
Followed by a sound of someone or something ripping the screens off the sunroom porch window frames.

DAD!!??? WHAT IN THE WORLD???!!!”

“Oh, that’s the squirrel.
He just loves the bird food”

Racing out to the porch to see what has attempted to tear part of the house off its foundation, I spy a giant grey squirrel hanging upside down from the gutter reaching his body out, stiff as a board, away from the house and grasping the feeder. I believe they call that sort of stunt planking.
The birds are now noisily perched in the trees expressing their great disdain for this usurper.

I proceed to watch this greedy grey acrobat race from the bush, to the gutter, to the screen, to the feeder over and over for the remainder of the afternoon.
Never allowing a single bird to gather near.

You should know that this squirrel is as big as a very large house cat. With the fullest prettiest tail I’ve ever seen on a squirrel. Not so for neighboring squirrels who are scrawny and lean.
Dad’s squirrel is super squirrel and he loves this squirrel.

Actually my dad loves all animals.
Not that I don’t, I certainly do but I do not give money to every organization on television who uses those sad big brown eyes staring back at me while Sarah McLachlan is sadly singing “In the arms of the angel”
This is a man who unknowingly, or knowingly as it depends on who you ask, has been giving money to what some have deemed a terrorist organization— PETA.
Not that giving money to animal rights activists is a bad thing, but the whole activist wording leaves me a bit nervous. People who kill other people because of animal violations scare me just a bit. Not that I haven’t wanted to beat people senseless who abuse animals, but to act in an organized vigilante sort of kill or be killed mentality just makes me, like I say, nervous.

I didn’t know about his funneling giving generously of money until I took over paying his bills. He had letter upon letter from PETA sitting in the black hole of an office, aka my old bedroom, when he was at his worst–just getting the mail and putting it away, never to look at it again—hence why I finally had to take over—it was either that or the IRS was going to put him in jail. Plus I feared PETA may send strong-armed big men out to get their annual, hush money, donation.

So now, we are no longer funneling giving away money except to the power company, the phone company, the gas company, the insurance company, the care service as well as to the Government. . .

And of course to big fat grey squirrels as I’m now off to buy yet another bag of feed to take up later this week.
At 26 bucks a week, I just may need to take out a tuppence loan in order to feed the birds. . .

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(a small mess remains from the birds and squirrel / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(the never ending feeder / Julie Cook / 2015)

out of sync

This search for happiness can knock us out of sync with God. As the life of Jesus makes clear, keeping in sync with God is about obedience. Any other pursuit will get in the way.
Franklin Graham

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(the grackles are back / Julie Cook / 2015)

A common visitor to the yard, in the quiet dull grey winter months, is the common grackle.
A lanky gregarious bird who reminds one of that over the top boisterous relative who comes periodically to visit, wreaking havoc on one’s usually quiet, calm and orderly world.
The grackles swoop in by the hundreds, like a giant black undulating cloud, shape shifting against th bleak cold backdrop of sky.
Loud,
noisy,
obnoxious. . .

So imagine my confusion today when that oh so familiar black squawky loud cloud of winter descended on the yard in the middle of a hot, sweltering August morning.
Hummmm. . .

They swooped in by the hundreds—darting through the early morning sprinklers spraying a desperately thirsty lawn. They chased the regular birds from the feeders. They pecked and groused at the mourning doves. They filled the trees like a million black frigidity leaves. They devoured the stale bread I’d thrown out for the crows. Even the rabbits ran for cover when the shifting black cloud landed, blanketing the lawn like a heavy black curtain.
The silent genteel Southern morning calm now punctuated with the herky jerky jabbering din of chaos.

As to why this unseasonal visitation, I can’t exactly say—but I will say that it has brought a bit of lively vigor to this otherwise oppressively hot, dog day, sensory dulling, summer’s end. . .
I can’t help but feel a bit out of sync with this topsy turvy season business and wonder what, or more precisely who, just might show up next. . . .

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It’s not always what you think

To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

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Upon first glance, the tree out in the pasture appears to be rather bare with only what one would assume to be a few straggling leaves. . .and then, suddenly, you hear it. There is a rousing deafening din of chatter–rising and falling to a crashing crescendo of chirping only to immediately and eerily cease—a few seconds later, it begins again.

Upon further inspection the leaves, or so it seems, are not leaves at all but rather hundreds of starlings, better known as grackles. I posted some images a week or so ago of this massive flock covering the telephone lines up and down our street. Today the roosting spot of preference is the tree in the pasture.

These pictures simply do not do justice to the overwhelming presence of these birds. A swarming black cloud. It is mesmerizing watching the mass of bodies and wings weaving in and out throughout the sky to the tree tops, only to be suddenly startled, taking off en masse, to another tree top. Amazing how they fly in tandem without running into one another–another beautiful example of the synchronization of nature.

As we find ourselves approaching the season of watchful waiting, expectant anticipation, may we be mindful of the unexpected wonders of the season. Small gifts of joy and magic found in the simplest of things, as in a group of birds.

I find today’s quote by the late great G.K. Chesterton, the larger than life British writer and journalist, and Catholic apologist, most heartening–a sober reminder helping to carry us through this season with a heart turned toward thanks and joy. To be mindful of what the season is truly about and not to the contrary of the glamour and glitz that the retail giants would lead us to believe–to love, to forgive, to believe and to hope when the world would direct us differently.

Watching, waiting, forgiving hoping, loving, believing— Veni, Veni Emmanuel…

more of those blasted harbingers

When clouds appear, wise men put on their cloaks;
When great leaves fall, the winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?

Shakespeare Richard III, 2.3

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(the swarm at Julie’s / Julie Cook 2013)

You think you’re seeing a cute pretty little ladybug. So sweet and cute you say. So cute when a 3 year old little girl is dressed as one for Trick or Treat but not so cute when hundreds descend upon your world—-as is exactly what is playing out throughout the southeastern States the past couple of weeks, with my house being in the middle of the fray.

This is just the one “lady” out of many that I could actually follow long enough to zoom in on– all the hundreds of other little friends where busy scooting where I know not and flitting also to where I know not—but not inside my house thank you very much!! By George, not in my house!!!

This time of year. . . it’s always this time of year. . . like I said, this time of year, when the weather first turns cool, then turns back mild, which will in turn switch back to cool, then cold— the ladybug—better known as the Ladybird beetle, THE Asian Ladybird beetle, will gather en masse to find a place to “winter”. . .like my house looks like a place to “winter” ?! I think not!!

Why everything likes to “masse” up this time of year is beyond my soul. First it was the grackles, or blackbirds, who swarm together during the winter making for very noisy and quickly moving black clouds seen and heard dashing through the sky. Then it was the herd of wooly bear caterpillars scurrying across busy roads giving no never mind to the tires heading their way. Next it was the squirrels darting about my yard gobbling up every acorn in sight as if they know of some sort of looming acorn shortage. And now—-it is the attack of the ladybugs!

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One must be very careful when opening a door around here lest a handful of these “ladies” flit inside. Do you know how annoying it is to sit down to supper, enjoying something warm and wonderful, when suddenly you look down on the edge of your plate as something scooting along the rim has just caught your eye. Disconcerting indeed.

If all of the things that I have been “witnessing” and observing, these past couple of weeks, are true indicators of winter, then Georgia is in deep trouble. Perhaps I should alert some state official, or perhaps the Governor to ready the sand trucks. We all know what happens to the roads and drivers in the South when the “s” word arrives. We don’t like saying it out loud as it makes kids go crazy, drivers even crazier and our local weathermen, nuts.

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I certainly don’t claim to be any sort of soothsayer or prophet by any means but obviously “things” are all trying to tell me something. All I know is that if the frogs start falling from the sky, I’m packing my bags . . .

Blackbirds in a pie…

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Blackbirds in a Pie

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

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(images of a massive flock of blackbirds near the house / Julie Cook / 2013)