Baby Squirrels Ate My Cake

Last Wednesday started with a squirrel caper. I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes and about to make morning coffee when my boyfriend, Tadd informed me that I had to “help him with a squirrel.” I went outside still clad in my nightshirt and found he’d taken apart a drain that ran from the top of the house to the ground. The bottom half had been removed and he was in the process of taking apart the middle so he could retrieve a squirrel trapped inside. “I need you to catch it,” he said and presented me with a big trash can that contained a folded blanket at the bottom. He proceeded to beat on the top of the drain until it fell on top of me. Naturally, I ducked instead of catching and the drain hit the ground with the squirrel still stuck inside.

The very end of it’s fluffy tail could be seen sticking out of the jagged edge and the pipe was hot all the way around where it contained the animal. It had bent inward right where the squirrel was trapped and I feared the worst. I was certain it had been crushed when the pipe hit the ground. I started to tear up thinking of how I’d failed the poor little guy after it had probably spent hours scratching and fighting to free itself. I forced myself to touch the tip of his little fluff tail and to my relief, it moved.  I retrieved a pair of plyers and pulled the metal pieces apart until I could see the face. It was looking right at me. I picked up the drain and tried to shake the squirrel loose but I wasn’t strong enough to dislodge him. Tadd picked up the pipe and gave it a mighty shake that sent the squirrel rocketing out the other end. It looked around for a minute and then shot toward the trees apparently uninjured.  After we finished congratulating we heard the very distinct sound of nails on metal from a different pipe. Multiple trapped squirrels? We wondered how they could be so dumb.

After pulling this drain apart it was apparent that the squirrel was trapped in the section that went under the ground. We couldn’t see anything but the scratching was very clear along with the little growls of frustration emanating from the animal. I coaxed the squirrel to find its way out and it finally got far enough up for me to see it was a baby! It was too little to climb all the way out and the sides of the drain were slippery. I put a stick into the hole and after a few attempts and many frustrated growls on the part of the baby, it was able to grab onto the stick and allow me to pull it out. I walked around with the baby squirrel attached to night shirt for two hours while we tried to figure out which tree it might have come from. I placed it into a tree in the front yard only to have it emit a bird like screech as soon as I put it down. We backed away hoping that the mother would show up to claim it, but no such luck. Since the baby didn’t like that tree I tried on the back yard. When I put him down something heavy landed in a tree branch opposite and I was surprised to see hungry white owl staring intently at my rescued baby. It was before noon and I didn’t even know owls were awake at this time of day. I scooped up the tiny squirrel and decided I wasn’t putting him down for anything. His little claws clung to my shirt and he seemed more content walking around my shoulders than he had in the tree.

I realize the obvious thing would be to keep this little guy and try to raise him myself, but it wouldn’t really work with 4 cats in the house. Just as I was looking around for a cage to temporarily place the baby in, I heard yet another scratch come from the drain in the ground. I looked down to see another baby squirrel face looking up at me! I was at a loss for what to do until I remembered a strange flyer we’d received in our mailbox about a month prior. It was from a neighbor who had lost a pet squirrel. In the flyer the neighbor offered a $25 reward for the return of the squirrel but warned that she would recognize her pet and not to bring her any squirrel. The flyer had been so amusing Tadd had kept it on his desk. He called squirrel lady and told her our story and the fact that we now had not one, but two orphan babies. “I’m putting my shoes on now,” she said. and came right over.

Squirrel lady’s name was Abbey and she was a stay at home student. She had time, specific squirrel experience and an empty nest since her former pet had decided to go back into the wild. She immediately took ownership of the baby I’d been protecting. She had long hair past her shoulders and the baby nestled into it to hide. Abbey told us that the squirrel mother had likely made a nest inside that drain and she asked us to show her where the baby came from. When we got back to the drain the struggling scratches could still be heard. As we peered into the hole there were now two tiny faces staring back at us! One of the babies had climbed onto the others back in an attempt to get out. We were all amazed and excited at how special this day had become. The two siblings were close enough to the surface that I could simply reach in and grab them both. Abbey claimed all 3 and wore them on her shoulders like a fur necklace. We gave her a pet carrier with a towel but the squirrels seemed to like her shoulders better and decided to stay put on the ride. The “ride home” was only two houses down so they didn’t have far to go.

One week later we received this picture and an update. The babies are fine and she is planning to keep them until they are old enough to be released.

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You first, everything else second

When I sat down to write you wanted my attention and put your body between my hands and the keyboard. How could I have ignored those soulful eyes that  tried to stare up at me but instead stared into darkness? Your innocent expectation melted my heart. I gathered your familiar weight in my arms and recognized you’ve grown fatter in the past month. I haven’t given you as many treats anymore, but I think you’ve been stress eating because you don’t like your new baby brother. I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t like it if someone was always leaping on my back and I had no way of seeing it coming.

I stroked your head in that spot you like until you fell asleep in my lap. My feet rest on a box speaker under my desk and it is very uncomfortable. I won’t move for anything. You are so often disturbed and upset, stumbling through life with those beautiful but sightless eyes. I won’t rob you of your peaceful dreams. Your mouth and front paws twitch and I imagine you’re dreaming of hunting. Maybe you’re chasing birds, lizards or chipmunks like the one I took from you earlier this year. I’m sorry about that, but he was just a baby and I didn’t want you to kill him. In  your sleep I hope you run through uncut lawns with cool grass tickling your belly. I hope you climb trees without fear. Most of all, I hope you’re happy.  I’m sorry my sneeze was so loud it just woke you up.

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Sleeping like an angel faced baby with his sister Snifferz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lful eyes that stared up at me although they don’t

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tennessee Writing Workshop Review

I read a quote somewhere that said the key to happiness was to have a definite goal, and then to do one thing every single day to move toward that goal. Having face to face conversations with two amazing agents at the Tennessee Writing Workshop was a huge step toward my ultimate goal of getting my story told. The query critique from Chuck Sambuchino was invaluable as well.

I chose this conference in part because it was located within driving distance from Atlanta and also because of the price. This conference was less expensive than some of the others I’d looked at before. I emailed my query letter to the conference organizer a few weeks prior to the event and received an edited version back a few days before. This was great timing because an agent ended up asking for the query letter! I decided to dip my toe in the water with “pitching” and signed up for two sessions with Literary Agents.

Pitching

Despite my king size bed with 18 pillows I got no sleep the night before the conference. All I could think about was the fact that I had to deliver pitches to both agents first thing! I had time to pick up my name tag and get right into the line of people standing around waiting to pitch their novels!  As I walked up I was greeted by nervous smiles from other waiting participants. We had time for brief mini pitches to each other and when 9:40 struck we all walked in together to take our seats in front of our respective agents.  It turns out I was much too nervous for no reason! The fact that Victoria Lea was interested in what I had to say and asked engaging questions made it so much easier to talk to her. After I got my first few sentences out without stumbling too horribly, it felt like a natural conversation. After our time was up she requested my full manuscript! My eyes started to water as I stood on shaky legs and got up from her table. I was overcome with relief and gratitude that things had worked out so well.

The success of my first pitch made it easier to give my second. I loved the enthusiasm that Marisa Corvisiero showed for my story. She even asked me to tell her the ending! It was a great conversation and she also made a request for material.

Below I’ve included some tips that helped me get through this process:

  1. Practice! Out loud in your office, with a sympathetic friend in the car driving to the conference, or on the phone with your mom.  Talk about your book to whomever will listen. Every time I was forced to go through it, it got a little easier.
  2. I had a few notecards in case I got stuck. My pitch wasn’t written out word for word on the notecards but I had the highlights written down.
  3. Try not to think of it as a “pitch” but more like a conversation you’re having with someone who has simply asked you, “what are you working on?”
  4. I had 10 minute time slots so we mostly talked about my story but I was asked some questions about my writing background as well. I was asked how long I had been working on my novel and what my goals were for my novel. I did get the opportunity to talk about my other published novel and short story publications.
  5. My last piece of advice comes from Ms. Marisa Corvisiero, Founder and Senior Literary Agent of the Corvisiero Literary Agency.  During the “Writers’ Got Talent” portion of the workshop she reminded everyone not to be nervous because agents are eager to hear our stories and that they need us as much as we need them.
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My face after 2 successful pitch sessions

Everything Else

After pitching was over and I had stopped shaking from nervous excitement, I enjoyed the “Writers’ Got Talent,” portion of the conference, in which Brian Klems selected random novel submissions and read them aloud to the audience. A panel of six agents sat in judgement of the material and raised their hands at the point in which they would naturally stop reading the selection because of something they didn’t like. It was great to hear the agents perspective and get some inside information into their thought process. Most of the mistakes people made were things that could have been avoided with better editing. There were a couple of first pages read that the agents critiqued for being unclear as to the direction of the story. For instance a story that was supposed to be a romance but had absolutely no tension or anything sexy on the first page! So the take away is to make sure that first page is polished or the rest of your story may not even be considered.

My last activity for the day was the afternoon Q&A session with Brian Klems that focused on, “25 Questions You Need Answered Before you Seek an Agent or Self-Publish Your Book.”This was helpful because he had very specific answers to many questions I’ve had but have heard varying opinions about. It was nice to get an industry professional to answer some questions I had about platform, social media and even the querying process!

I don’t think this conference could have gone any better for me. I made some good connections with people who can help me with my career, I learned some valuable information about publishing and as a bonus, a few new twitter followers! It was definitely worth the money and the drive. Thank you, Brian Klems, Chuck Sambuchino, and especially Victoria Lea and Marisa Corvisiero!

 

 

 

 

Which bad habit should I start?

I’m mostly joking when I ask this question, mostly. Someday I hope to become a great storyteller and there is no denying that many famous writers also had serious drug or alcohol addictions.  At this moment the only drug I abuse is caffeine but I don’t think it will alter my perspective enough to allow me to tap into my inner writing genius.  Just for funsies, I’d like to take a look at a few notable writers with serious drug issues.

Phillip K. Dick I have seen several movies based on his works but the first novel I read was “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” This is one of those books that makes you wonder what kind of mind came up with this, and the answer to that question is, a mind altered by mescaline, LSD, PCP, etc. I’m sure the man had a great imagination without the drugs, by the reality altering effects of them certainly contributed.

Hunter S. Thompson A man known just as well for his fiendish drug use as his writing. According to the biography written by E. Jean Carroll his daily routine consisted of cocaine use, multiple glasses of scotch whiskey, cigarettes, weed, writing beginning at midnight followed by more cocaine, whiskey and other drugs throughout the night. I can’t believe he lived to be 68.

Stephen King was also a cocaine addict.  I don’t care for him but can’t deny he’s the name that everyone thinks of when considering the “horror” genre.  According to wikipedia he has 55 published novels and 200 short stories, and a bunch of really terrible movies based on his books with the exception of “The Shining” and “Carrie.” So yeah, for cocaine?

William S. Burroughs speaks candidly about heroine use in a 1977 interview. Interview . He admits that his experience with drugs helped him write “Junkie” as well as “Naked Lunch” and he hasn’t seen any negative health effects from the use but he does admit that he didn’t bathe much and as of the date of the interview was no longer addicted.

All this shows me is how difficult it really is to write a good story, which is something I already knew. My own methods of getting the creative juices flowing are much less interesting. They include the following:

  1. Drink a glass of beet juice
  2. Go for a jog
  3. Watch any episode of Doctor Who
  4. Have coffee with my favorite writer buddy and brainstorm

Non-fiction Wednesday

I wrote this for a medical magazine but they said they didn’t need anymore content!

 

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Cars moved and people walked the streets outside my hospital room window perfectly oblivious to the fact that my entire world had been altered. I closed the curtains to my window on the children’s floor of East Georgia Regional Medical Center. Two days ago I had been forced into a campus security vehicle and driven from Georgia Southern University to the local hospital ER. I now considered this room with its pastel paint and rainbow curtains, a prison.

 

I kept thinking to myself that this wasn’t happening and the events of the last two days had been a bad dream. Soon I would open my eyes and find that my body wasn’t rebelling against me and I was in fact normal. But then, I couldn’t deny the physical evidence. My palms were dry and the skin cracked no matter how much lotion I applied. I had lost so much weight my hip bones protruded and my normally round butt was pancake flat. Every time I washed my hair, or simply ran my fingers through, it fell out in clumps. I craved sugar all the time and even though I stuffed myself with sweets I didn’t gain the weight back . I had also developed an incredible thirst that was never quenched no matter how much I drank. This was perhaps the most disrupting symptom. My mouth was always devoid of any moisture even though I drank all day long. Every night either the terrible thirst or urge to go to the bathroom forced me awake so that I never felt fully rested. The constant need to relieve myself also made it impossible to sit through an entire psychology lecture. I walked around in a mental fog most of the time with only brief moments of clarity right after an exercise. I was later told that these were all the classic warning signs of my new condition.

Sitting on the hospital bed I fingered my Psychology of Gender textbook. There was an exam the day they rushed me to the hospital and my husband Eric brought my book so I could study for the make-up test. I had been even more foggy than usual that morning. Instead of going to class, I went to the health center and they gave me the diagnosis. “I can’t believe you drove all the way from Savannah in your condition!” The nurse who pricked my finger said. The word “diabetes,” was only slightly familiar to me. I didn’t know exactly what it meant. Eric once told me about a cousin of his who’d developed diabetes as a child.

         “Jesse used to be thin, but ever since she got diabetes she gained weight. She most likely won’t live very long because people with diabetes usually don’t.”

 

Of course these words had been said from one perfectly healthy person to another. That statement was all I knew of diabetes, that it made athletic people fat.

The nurse at the GSU Health Center pricked my finger twice because the reading was so abnormally high. The first time it said 567 and the second 564. This result sent the staff into an uproar proclaiming I needed to be rushed to the ER. With a blood sugar that high, they deemed me unable to drive myself. “I want to go home,” I told them. They ignored my request. I lived at least forty-five minutes from campus and they all agreed I needed emergency medical attention. They wouldn’t even let me walk to the waiting police car on my own. I was twenty-three years old and being pushed in a wheelchair like an invalid.

 

“No more sweets for you baby,” Nurse Janice said cheerfully. She come in to check my vitals and interupted my brooding. It turned out that this particular nurse was also diabetic and she tried to give me diet tips. In a nice way, she told me that everything with flavor was something I could no longer eat. I wondered if I would starve to death on this new diet? I certainly wasn’t going to gain any weight back.

 

Before Janice left she told me that a Diabetes Educator would be coming to visit. I took out a pad and paper and began to write down all the questions I could think to ask. I was looking forward to this visit because it was one of the requirements for my release. I tried to think of thoughtful questions but all I wrote down were stupid things like, “Is it still okay to drink alcohol?” Everything I worried about seemed meaningless when written down. I had diet questions but there were bigger things on my mind that I was afraid to say aloud. I had heard horror stories about diabetics with feet or even leg amputations. I was an avid jogger, or at least I had been.

 

The Diabetes Educator came night around nine o’ clock. She was a slight woman with bright red hair and glasses. She was more helpful than the doctor had been, and much more sympathetic. We talked for an hour and she gave me free blood sugar monitoring equipment and nutritional books. Her name was Ms. Duncan and she answered all the questions except for the one about alcohol. “You shouldn’t drink any alcohol,” was her answer.

 

I felt better after meeting with Ms. Duncan but it only lasted until they borught me my next completely tasteless “diabetic suitable,” hospital meal. It was enough to make me want to give up on life. The tray contained two paper thin slices of turkey with some snot colored gravy, a dinner roll as big as my thumb and a smell of canned carrots without a speck of seasoning. And for desert, sugar free jello!

 

Each meager hospital meal was accompanied by an inch long needle in the arm, thigh or stomach. They told me I would be insulin dependent for life and that giving myself regular injections was something I’d have to learn. I’d always had a healthy fear of needles and as a child it took more than one full grown adult to hold me down so a shot could be delivered. By day two of my current hospital stay I’d been stuck more times than in my entire life combined.

 

In addition to the insulin shots, a nurse came in at least four to five times a day to prick one of my fingers and check sugar levels. This was also something I’d have learn and demonstrate to the doctor before being released. When my nurse came in she handed the glucometer to me and even though it was only a finger stick, I handed it back to her every time. It wasn’t only the needle but the sight of blood, especially mine, that I couldn’t stand to see. I had to prick my finger then squeeze on it until the blood drop was fat enough for the meter to read. My nurse referred to that as “milking,” a statement that made me want to vomit inside my mouth.

“I just want to be normal,” I remembered saying to my doctor.

 

Dr. Gerges responded coldly by saying it was just something I would have to live with. No sympathy, no concern, I was just one of many miserable patients she had to see that day. After starting to leave for the night she turned back to me with her emotionless expression. “You’re young, maybe they’ll find a cure before you get too old.” I bet she was really thinking, “maybe they’ll find a cure before your feet get gangrene and have to be lopped off.” I hated Dr. Gerges for her terrible bedside manner. Logic told me that she hadn’t given me type 1 diabetes, but the fact remained that she was healthy and I was not. I hated her as I irrationally hated all of the medical staff at that moment.

 

On my last day they forced me to admnister the insulin dose myself by refusing to let me eat beforehand. I had the choice of either stabbing my thigh, buttocks or abdomen. The trick was to pinch a piece of fat and stab into it. The problem was I didn’t have much fat left anywhere. I decided to try my thigh. I was handed a needle, that seemed more like a harpoon. I was instructed to do it in one quick stab. I couldn’t even look at the needle before when I’d been given the shot and now I had to look because I had to aim it. I pinched a pale piece of flesh between thumb and forefinger. The medicinal smell of alcohol stung my nose as I used a swab to cleanse the spot I’d chosen. The needle was poised above my mound of skin and I started to push it towards the target, then stopped. I started and then stopped once again before I could push it in. I moaned in misery. This Nurse, her name was Hilde, was sympathetic and offered words of encouragement. I sucked in a breath and jabbed the needle into my thigh still holding my breath as I depressed the plunger. When it was over I still couldn’t believe I’d done that to myself. I wondered how I would ever get used to it.

 

Stabbing myself turned to be the first of a series of repetitions I would have to perform daily in order to live. I had to accept that I would never again eat a meal without having to first stab some part of my body. Food would need to be carefully measured to make sure I was taking the correct dose of insulin with my meal and also carefully planned so that I ate in four hour intervals. Either my thigh stomach or butt would always have an ugly black bruise from a misplaced needle stick. It was true that my life was never going to be the same, but it wasn’t over. Looking in the mirror that last day at the hospital, I did not like the hollow sickly face I saw with its thinning hair. I vowed to do everything possible to stay healthy and learn as much as possible about my illness. I would read up on the latest research and maybe even participate in walk-a-thons to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. I decided that if I had to be a person living with an incurable illness I wouldn’t be defined by that alone, and I wouldn’t let it win.

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In 2014 I participated in my first fundraising event for the American Diabetes Association as a “Red Strider.” I am currently participating in a year long research study which focuses on type 1 diabetics and the effects of a new pill on blood sugar levels. I feel proud to be contributing to the current body of knowledge about this illness and encouraged that I may one day be able to give the needle up for good!