decisions of life and death, as witnessed by the squirrel

“I may not have gone where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

Douglas Adams

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(gray squirrel / Savannah, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2016)

If you’ve ever driven down a road, suddenly spotting a grey mass sitting in the middle of the road…
as you approach said mass, at a nice clip of speed…you quickly, and a bit sickeningly,
realize that the gray mass quickly coming into focus…is a frantic squirrel…
who now sits directly in your immediate field of vision and in the direct path
of your 50 mph plus some odd ton vehicle…
closing in for an immediate and deadly impact.

The squirrel seems stuck in time, shifting left then shifting right…
with this surreal dance of death going on a million times,
within what seems to be an eternity but in actuality is…
a mere few seconds…

If life is good–the squirrel makes the right 11th hour decision by darting
miraculously out of your path by the very hair of his tail.

If life is not good–it is a bad day for the squirrel as you feel badly for that slight bump you feel under your wheels….

I am that squirrel.

The car barreling down on me is dad with cancer…
add to that my on-going searing back and hip pain coupled by the myriad of tests
I’m squeezing in in-between trips to Dads.

The Radiologist oncologist told us today that radiation would be every day for 7 consecutive weeks—everyday I’d commute to and from Atlanta as dad would be zapped.

Not to cure him mind you…just to hopefully keep the tumor at bay….
but for how long, no one can say.

His primary care doctor says he is simply too weak and frail to endure such.
The side effects of radiation in the elderly is weakness, diarrhea and burning…
that is in the best of cases…

He’s already weak, already battles colitis and is not very well overall mentally or physically…
yet that did not seem to deter the doctor today who seemed
more concerned with his ever ringing phone…
as he would step out of the room for 20 minutes here and 10 more minutes there…

He told Dad that if he did nothing it wouldn’t be pretty with pain and misery…
which scared dad into wanting to begin zapping right then and there.
I explained to the doctor that we, as a family, would need to talk about all of this
and discuss this with Dad’s primary care doctor—
at which he seemed a bit incensed that I too didn’t agree to begin immediately.

To be honest, I felt overtly pressured.
He didn’t seem to consider that dad is weak and frail or that he is struggling with his cognizant abilities…
It was more like checking off a list…then wham bam you’re good to go, lets sign you up now…

I called a dear friend who had been one of dad’s nurses over the past year for her input.
I called back to dad’s primary care doctor for his opinion.
I called my husband
I called my cousin.
I called my aunt…
and I cried the entire rush hour traffic ride home…

Everyone who knows dad knows treatment is not the correct route.
But dad is scared.
And dad is very much like a little child.
And the cancer doctors are chomping at the bit…

So this squirrel is at a loss.

I may dip in and out of blogland here and there.
The first time in 3 years.
But I’m feeling my energy, creativity, my very life, ebbing away….
Depression is closing in fast…
it’s wicked hot breath has been on the back of my neck now for months.

Decisions have to be made…
and sickeningly, like the squashed squirrel, the buck stops here.
For I am now the parent of the parent who can no longer make those calls himself.
What is the right decision???
What is the right call???
Quality of life…
length of life…
yet at what state??
How much longer either way?
Aggressive cancer…
Fast growing…

I danced this dance with Mother 30 years ago…
I never would have envisioned walking down this road again…

I pray for a revelation or a Divine intervention—
One that directs our path without regrets, without second guessing…
That the road we go, is to be the right road…the only road…

I’ll be in and out as my strength and mindset allows…

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For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.
I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord,
“and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Jeremiah 29:11-14

find praise

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(a tired weary sheep slowly gets up / Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Worn and weary
Run ragged and haggared…
Feeling forgotten and alone in all you do…
Overwhelmed and underwhelmed by all that must be done…
Add in the busiest time of year…
You’re stretched too thin yet can you please offer up some more?
They want the proverbial blood from a turnip…

There is a heightened sense of urgency.
The overbooked schedules…the events, the pageants, the parties, the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the traveling, the wrapping, the singing, the sledding, the shoveling, the chopping, the washing, the exams, the grading, the deadlines, the reports, the dinners, the meetings…..it’s all simply never ending.
Or is is too quiet…
Too lonely, too empty, too little, too late…
Just shake it all up and pour it up neat…either way it’s all too much.

It’s either too cold or its either too hot.
You’re either too late, too soon, just in the nick of time…or simply put… you’re simply out of time as the deadline is all but passed.

The lines are endless and the tempers are shorter.
Good cheer is hard to find in the overcrowded parking lots, roadways, and snarling traffic jams.
Rush here, hurry there, get this and pick up that as you have yourself
a Merry Little Christmas now…

Or is it all just too quiet…
Too empty and too painful as you struggle though the day?
Remember, lock your doors and look over your shoulder, bad things lurk in the shadows. And don’t forget to unplug the lights….

Is it any wonder you’re tired, overwhelmed, ill tempered…
Fussing and cussing, complaining and lamenting…
The lists grow longer as the cash flow falls shorter.
As the airports cancel the flights…
Sneezing, coughing, aching…getting sick with no extra time in sight…
It’s hard to find a smile when hurting, silent and sad…
Bah humbug you shout, let’s be done with it already.

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani”

Forsaken and forgotten…alone and at wits end.
Vulnerable and exposed or simply empty and spent?
Who has time for joy, merry and bright…
When the mall is packed with people…
When you feel only sad and lonely…
When you’re so busy you’ve forgotten what it’s all about…

Emotions are heightened, raw and frayed this magical yet manic time of year.
Be it good or be it bad.
Isolation verses exposure as you fight to find the happy middle.
For there is no middle road to your life this season of the festive.
Only emptiness as everyone seems unable to understand why.

You cry out day and night but no one acknowledges your need as they’re too busy walking away…as the lady rings the bell…

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

The party goes on with or without you, as everyone jumps to grab the ring.
The glasses are raised with each and every cheer, yet your glass is empty and your plate is oddly bear.
Everyone gloats as they bask by the fire, yet who’s really happy now?

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

A second wind is found, a helping hand is offered, a needed embrace takes you in while comfort is found in a smile.
And deep within you manage to find the words…

“From you comes the theme of my praise…”

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.


(excepts from Psalm 22)

Therapy amongst the mint

“All of earth is crammed with heaven
And every bush aflame with God
But only those who see take off their shoes.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
Anne Frank

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(a clump of freshly pulled mint mixed in a pile of roots / Julie Cook / 2015)

The air was punctuated with the pungent aroma of mint and basil mingled with a heavy dose of loamy moist dirt.
I had taken pruning shears with me, but put them aside in favor of my two gloved hands.
My intent was to simply cut it all back but instead I opted to hopefully rid my yard and life of the invasive mayhem.

The growing green mass had covered the whole front corner of the bed by the garage and was set to cover up Mimi’s ancient cement bench if something wasn’t done and done soon to stop this almost giddy encroachment.

My heart has felt much the same in recent days, overrun and over burdened with and by the onslaught of the grim global headlines.

The now burgeoning sickly yellowish green patch is usually the first thing in the yard to show its tender new verdant foliage during those sleepy hopeful wee days between winter and spring. It’s what gives me hope that life, rebirth, regrowth and Spring will indeed vanquish Old Man Winter while ushering in welcoming warmer days.

As I wondered about how best to tackle the latest infestation of overgrowth in the shrub bed, my thoughts wandered a world away to what or whom would or could now vanquish the sweeping global sorrows that were entangling both my heart and soul.

Come late Summer. . .when life is dried out and burned out, just as the seasons prepare to knock on the door of Autumn, the leggy gangly masses have become a truly unsightly tangled mess of tired and spent. As in I’m just ready to cut it all away, rid my life of the jumbled mess and happily welcome in some cool crisp colorful order.

I wish I could easily do the same for our hurting planet.

I’ve always found solace in working with my hands.
The more manual the labor the more productive and alive I feel.
There is a cleansing honesty in working with one’s hands.
Never mind that my back has been giving me fits, never mind the heat index is still in the triple digits, I will gladly get down and dirty, as the sun continues to bake the world, for working hard in the yard is good for the soul, the mind and often literally the heart.

Oh that it could be so easy with this greatly burdened world of ours.

As a true Southerner I’ve grown up with mint sprouting from every yard I’ve ever called home. What better accompaniment to one’s tea or julep, depending on your preference, than a sprig of fresh mint? Anyone will tell you mint is easy, as in it grows itself. In fact it’s just a little too easy, as in too eager and way too invasive. It’s more like a weed gone wild then a treasured herb. Plus everyone who does any work in a garden will tell you, any novice can grow mint— it offers instant gratification to the more hesitant would-be gardeners among us.

But my mint patch has been on the run and I had to stop it before things got anymore out of hand. Rather than cut it back, just for it to sprout right back to this same spreading madness within a few days, I took to pulling it up, by the long lanky root full. Even poor ol St Francis had to be laid on his side just so I could get to what was running under my favorite saint’s feet. I don’t think he was much bothered by the intrusion.

As I yanked and pulled, buried just under the top layer of straw and soil, was a criss crossing network of an eerily bone white root system stretching for what seemed to be miles. With each tugged, pulled and unearthed jumble of lanky roots and dirt, earwigs and beetles alike scurried helter skelter, madly seeking a dark cloak of safety in the damp compost soil.

The more my thoughts drifted over the latest mounding national and global turmoils, I pulled harder and deeper. Sweat trickled down my face, pooling at the tip of my nose before dripping and disappearing into the blackened soil. The sweat seemed to reach across the globe mingling with the tears of those thousands of people now walking hundreds of miles in search of asylum and safety.

As the morning turned to afternoon, I had finally pulled up the last of the mint. The piles were now all raked up, the walkway swept and the pine straw smoothed as the shrub bed now had a delightfully clean and fresh look.

I still had no grand revelations as to how to help the ever growing global crises sweeping across our lives nor how to ease the lingering tensions within our own Nation. I was hot, tired and weary of body, but there was oddly a refreshing clarity of thought.
No longer did I feel totally overwhelmed or at a loss.
Still not knowing where to even begin to help, I gratefully no longer felt as defeated as I had.
There’s just something about physical labor, with it’s overwhelming beginning and productive ending, that gives hope to the overwhelming obstacles of life. . . hope that we can indeed tackle and eventually overcome the litany of misery facing our current global family.

I trust we will be able to do so. . .
for only in God, comes hope to the hopeless, and strength to the weak. . .

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:10

“Let me arise and open the gate, to breathe
the wild warm air of the heath,
And to let in Love, and to let out Hate,
And anger at living and scorn of Fate,
To let in Life, and to let out Death.”

Violet Fane

Look up

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations.
I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty,
believe in them, and try to follow them.”

Louisa May Alcott

“Hope is the last thing ever lost.”
Italian Proverb


“If you’re going through hell, by all means, keep going. . .”

Sir Winston Spencer Churchill:

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(a tiny yet beautiful skipper looks upward / Julie Cook / 2015)

Spending the day situating Dad’s affairs. . .
As in. . .

Getting the taxes almost squared away with the CPA, the State and the one’s that really count, the Feds. . .

Dealing with the accident report and Police department regarding the little fender bender last week with Gloria and the caregiver while they were out on a mission. . .
Oh, did I not tell you about that?
You don’t want to know. . .

Organizing the growing mountain of paperwork, invoices, bills, receipts. . .
While musing that taking care of Dad and that household of theirs must be similar to running a small corporation or better yet, a small country. . .

Calling insurance companies. . .cars, medical. . .”please hold. . .”

Talking with the Care Agency about lining up the who’s, the whats, the whens, the wheres. . .and we know the whys. . .

Talking with Dad, who is still terribly ill. . .convinced he’s dying yet hoping they can help with the cancer. . .As I in turn inquire as to who told him he had cancer. . .With the response being, “it won’t go away, it’s cancer. . .” Ode to the rationale of psychosis

Talking with the nurse, otherwise known as the wise counsel who still has her sanity in the midsts of all of this while playing go-between with the doctor’s office, the caregiver, me and most importantly Dad. . .

Coordinating taking Dad to the Gastroenterologist tomorrow (which is today if your reading this) with as much ease as possible. . .
While hoping and praying for positive good news. . .

Taking a break, I push back from the phone, the computer, the table, and life. . .
Wondering why I came home from the Ocean’s shores. . .deciding quickly to seek a small diversion.

I step outside into the “feels like 91 degree” humid heat to weed, fertilize and deadhead the now leggy hot garden and yard.
An hour of working in a sauna, I head back inside seeking respite and a popsicle.
I look over a few of my favorite blogs, catching up on a few new postings. . .when I read a wonderful feel good story from Stuart M. Perkins over on Storyshucker
( https://storyshucker.wordpress.com )
Stuart has a Faulkneresque quality as he spins his tales of life and of his growing up in the South (Virginia that is).

His story today regarding a weekend spent at a team building seminar, coupled with my talk with the Nurse charged with caring for Dad and Gloria, each caught my attention as the similarities in these separate discussions was not lost on a sinking psyche.

It is becoming increasingly easy for me to grow frustrated, overwhelmed and sad while dealing with all things Dad and Gloria, while trying to squeeze my own family’s needs into the picture.
Heading into all of this pretty much alone—as in the only child dealing with a dad and stepmom’s rapidly declining health while trying to manage their home and lives, all from afar. . .can drive me to thoughts of drinking bushwhackers quite heavily (you’ll have to see the post from yesterday to understand–“Bushwhackers, bare feet and a needed cure all”)

And that’s when it hit me—-the sudden realization that I’m really not alone. . .
I was soothingly reminded that I actually have my own little team.
Remembering to lift my head, looking upwards to that “from whence comes my help”, leading me to the thoughts of my very own team of three–with me making 4.
As in remembering, claiming and holding onto fast and hard the lone fact that in my faith I never walk alone!
I walk hand in hand with a loving Father in Heaven—-Yeshua, His son, who takes me by the hand— and the Spirit of Life who leads me ever forward—
And it is with that thought of teamwork now flooding my mind—
that I felt myself finally exhale. . .

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(the tiny skipper amongst the succulents / Julie Cook / 2015)

Burn, Burning, Burned. . .out!

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
Jack London

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(one of the culprits on the strands of light / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(the burned out strands in the trash / Julie Cook / 2014)

The presents are wrapped, finally, and the stockings are hung—meaning— what you see is it. . .as in the decorations you see are as far as it goes–So just tell me it looks nice and lets move on. . .
The store is still busy as both time and people seem to keep coming as I’m running on fumes.
So imagine my chagrin when I came home one evening from working the holiday madness, aka retail, plugged in the tree and. . . nothing.
As in no lights.
As in a dark tree.

WHAT?

Too tired to scream, I could be heard mumbling to myself, “it figures”
Yet the girl scout in me knew there had to be some sort of remedy I could rig.
Grabbing two extension cords I began digging ever so gently through a well decorated 10 foot tree in search of the ends of the light cords I had pushed back in the branches to hide their unsightliness during the decoration ritual.
Finding the ends I began unplugging and replugging in an effort to see which cord would light and which would not.

As miracles would have it, I didn’t have to climb around all over the tree, discovering which cord was the culprit with very little wasted time or effort. . . ahhhh.
All I needed to do was to thread one extension cord up through the tree in order to plug in the good cords and run the other extension cords up to the other working cords.

Voila, a mostly lit tree with a dark mid-section—but at this point, I’ll take what I can get.

Getting home late again Thursday evening I scrambled out of the car to a darkened front porch in order to plug the lights in. . .the very ones I labored putting up around the front of the house on that blasted day known as “black friday”. As it was dark and cold, I was hurrying to get the show on the road so I could hurry up and make supper, I plugged in all the extension cords when I suddenly noticed an entire chunk of lights had burned out on the right side of the porch railing.
UGH!!!!
Great.
Now the house looks lopsided.
Clamoring around in the dark, I could be heard telling the dark of night, the lights that worked, the dead lights and anything else that was perhaps wandering around in the dark that “by God, I decorate this freaking house once a year, and I am bound and determined, as God is my witness, to light things up, and light I shall. . .”
Very Scarlet O’Hara you know—It’s a southern thing.

Fast forward to this morning.
As my oh so tired and exhausted husband headed out the door, making his way to the store to put in another solid day of making holiday cheer, aka our work in retail, I made my way to Home Depot. I had told him that I was going to go pick up some more lights before heading to the store to help (sell, wrap, greet, smile, and make merry, and curse my aching feet).
“Why in the world would you go buy new lights with only a few days left in Christmas?” he mumbled heading out the door.
“Because by gosh, as God is my witness, I decorated this house and I won’t have it half lit up as in half a&$. . .
He could be seen rolling his eyes as he got in his truck because at this point, he is so over Christmas. Plus I think he finds my Scarlet O’Hara impersonation a bit melodramatic.

Arriving at Home Depot, the place that saw my credit information stollen in the data breach they suffered earlier this year. . .as my bank account was accosted by some thieves in south Georgia, Illinois and Indiana that was luckily caught early enough before any real damage occured, I was ready to do business again, risking my bank account and identity all in the name of holiday lights.

Do you know how sad the shelves holding the holiday decor look right about now at a massive home improvement center? Kind of like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. . .empty and sparse with a few remaining boxes which look as if they’d been opened, pilfered through, stuffed back shut and left for any poor sucker who happened to come by at the 11th hour in need—such as myself.

There were twinkling warm mini lights, snowflakes, giant icicles, round colored balls, and the very retro looking giant colored lights. . .those monstrosity lights of my childhood—-the ones I hated—so tacky and garish.

I grabbed a couple of remaining boxes that had obviously been opened and hoped for the best.
Kind of the same mindset I felt when I handed the cashier my debit card–thinking here goes nothing, again, or maybe here goes everything I own again, sort of feeling.

Back home, I open up the boxes, yanking out a waded up tangled mess of lights. Just as I figured—someone either returned these puppies or either pulled them out taking a gander before stuffing them back in the box deciding they weren’t for them. Smoothing and pulling as best I could, I stretched the cord along the railing. I proceeded with 3 more boxes. As they all seemed to work, I felt a sense of relief—until the one strand filling in the area of my original area of contention began blinking.

WHAT?

The strand was also white, my other strands are green.
AGGGGHHHH!!!
Making the sound Homer Simpson makes, I see that I have all constant green wire shining lights except for a lone white wire strand that now “twinkles”—-
“REALLY?!” I am now heard shouting to all birds and any passing cars.
“Well, too bad!!!” I’m heard to exclaim to the squirrels.
I have lights, who but the raccoons and possums will notice the twinkling—any passing cars will be driving too fast but to merely briefly “ooooo” at the sight of lights as they move like a bat out of hell down the road past the house as no one drives up and down our road paying any attention to posted speed limits, yellow lines or much else for that matter, so who cares if one batch is now twinkling??!!

“By God”, I exclaim, I have lights and lights I shall!!
Makes no never mind anyway as the lights will just be coming down in less than a week.
“This is Christmas by George and we will make merry!!!”

The moral of the story you ask. . .besides being wary of using debit cards now a days anywhere or buying obviously previously opened boxes. . .
We need to be mindful that everyone gets a bit burned out this time of year, even the kids–from the constant going here, there and yon, to the constant shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, working, caroling– to the high expectations, the hopes, the dreams, the let downs and disappointments. . .

At first it’s just the burned out holiday lights, then the next thing you know you’re shooting the neighbors giant inflatable Frosty the snowman with a BB gun. . .
It won’t do any of us, or those around us, any good letting ourselves get all worked up in a tizzy. . .it’s best to simply let go and go on— moving forward and making “Merry” the best way we know how. . .

Now where in the h*!l is that pitcher of eggnog—you know the one. . .was that one cup of rum and one cup of bourbon per one quart of eggnog or was it two quarts of nog. . .I think I like the odds with one quart and equal ratios!!

Merry Christmas!!!

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Happiness to you on a Friday

Happiness is neither without us nor within us.
It is in God, both without us and within us

Blaise Pascal

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(Gulf Fritillary butterfly visiting an impatient / Julie Cook / 2014)

By the time Friday usually rolls around, aren’t we all just simply spent from the demands and activities of the previous days of the week?
Are we not found to be by Thursday weary, tired, beat, worn out, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, exhausted–mentally, physically, emotionally and even, for some, spiritually. So much so that by the time Friday morning rolls around, it’s difficult to peel ourselves out of the bed in order to get going.

Or maybe, just maybe, by Friday morning, we’re oh so ready for the weekend, we hop right up, ready to get Friday under out belts so we can “have” our weekend. But let’s not talk about the countless who have no weekend, as their schedules require work and demands just as on a Monday or a Tuesday, or, well, you get the point.

Adding to that weariness, for so very many across this country, school has started its new season–life, for both young and old alike, is kicking it up a notch to an ultra radical level of pace. There’s now the struggle to reset the rhythm and routine. Getting adjusted back to the rigors of a demanding and exhausting schedule for the long and arduous “school year.” Just thinking about it is exhausting.

According to the calendar, with the festivities of the weekend ready to get underway, Summer will come to its official end. That whole 3 day weekend thing just sweetened the pot of “living for the weekend” when there’s a holiday in the making. We can get through any drudgery of any week if a holiday gets tacked on at the end, right?

So if this Friday is finding you a tad tired, worn, bedraggled, shell-shocked, or a little too excited over forthcoming weekend festivities, I thought it might be helpful if I shared a little visual happiness. . .here’s to surviving the week and for hopefully surviving the weekend. . .all with a little added touch of visual happiness. . .behold the Passion Butterfly or as it is officially known, the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. . .

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