Unexpected visitor

Visits always give pleasure – if not the arrival, the departure
Portuguese Proverb

What a surprise we found yesterday afternoon upon our arrival home after a long day away. As we turned into the driveway from the road, we see a most unusual individual standing on the driveway… just outside of the open garage. My husband immediately stops and we just sit in the truck perched at the top of the driveway in awe.

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A young deer is standing on the driveway right by the house! It looks at us sitting in the truck at the top of the driveway but continues standing and even edging it’s way slowly closer to the garage and house. What these photos don’t show is that our fluffy orange cat Peaches is sitting on the walkway just behind the big bush on the left of the picture. The deer is standing just about 2 feet away form Peaches in a bit of a stare off.

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I think if we’d sat in the truck a while longer, the little deer would have eventually edged its way over the Peaches–perhaps nose to nose introductions. Peaches, who in turn was not budging, is a very docile cat who no doubt was equally intrigued with the visiting larger 4 legged “guest.”
“We can’t sit here all day” my husband reluctantly admits as we proceed to edge our own way down the driveway as the little deer simply turned and walked down the bank, wandering toward the back yard and “mom” as she waited by the tree.

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What a special treat…. Who knew we’d have “company” waiting on us when we arrived home. Just goes to show that none of us ever knows what necessarily awaits us upon our arrivals here, there, and yon…. with that thought in mind, on this new day to this new week, alway be ready for the unexpected–and remember the words of St Benedict from his Rule for living…..
“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,
for He is going to say,
“I came as a guest, and you received Me” (Matt. 25:35).
And to all let due honor be shown….”

What is the fruit by which you are known?

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
Saint Basil

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(Photograph: Savannah, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

You may have noticed from a previous post or two how much I love nature….trees in particular….so massive and majestic. I feel embraced by their sheer stature. Living in the South as I do, I’m not a fan of our ubiquitous pine trees–tall sticks with needles–and they seem to exude heat which only compounds the heavy air we breath 4 to 5 months of the year. It is however our gracious oaks that speak to my soul.

I suppose I should one day write a post about trees. How I really love the western birch and Aspen trees with their silvery smooth bark and their leaves flickering in the wind like little muffled chimes— there are the beautiful northern firs that signal that I am “home” in the mountains I dearly love. And yet there is just something about the southern oaks—be it white oak, black oak, red oak or water oak… Stately and yet lazily offering delightful shade and respite from sun or rain.

They, the trees, have always provided us humans so very much–everything from shelter to food. And sadly we have taken them for granted just as we have with most of our natural world…but today is not the day to bemoan our poor stewardship of our natural world but rather a day of thankful reflection–as this is Sunday—a day of rest, a day of worship, a day of thanks and a day of reflection.

As blessed St. Basil reminds us, today, as well as any day, is the day that we should plant in order to reap. And yet we must be mindful of what it is that we plant. We have a lovely colloquial expression here in the South—you get a whole lot more with honey than you do vinegar…..Meaning a kindness usually generates a returned kindness…like for like…and so on…..

So on this beautiful Fall day of reflection, contemplation, rest and joy–consider what it is that you plant–if you are not pleased with the harvest you may need to check your “seed”
Happy Sunday

The elusive quest for beauty and eyebrows

Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.
Albert Camus

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Beauty.
Yes well, what is there to say? Our society is obsessed with it….or rather with the pursuit of such. So much so that we are vainly attempting our hand at brainwashing an impressionable young generation…the mantra that all should be of an everlasting plastic youth. I have written about this sort of thing before. The unhealthy addiction so many seem to have to the scalpel or the needle of the plastic surgeon—augmentation, botox, lipo, all in the name of youth and beauty. Have you seen those faces and bodies of the oh so stretched too tight or blown up like an over inflated balloon—so unnatural.

And then there is the Cosmetic industry with their potions and lotions promised to diminish or eliminate wrinkles. The “magic” formulas peddled to eradicate age spots, skin irregularities, uneven skin tones. The amazing liquids, that once smeared on, transform winter white to summer bronze. That can’t be good.

All of this however is not exactly my focus today.

Whereas I do think this world of ours, or at least the marketing world, has gone over board, nuts and mad quite frankly with this whole quest for eternal youth and beauty….I simply wish we’d all just take a healthy look in the mirror of reality and be happy with what looks back.

I taught teenagers for over 30 years—the teen years are some tough years if you may recall. Self esteem and self image being everything. And may we remember that I was also an art teacher….where much conversation centered on what is art, what is beauty—or rather what is aesthetically pleasing.

And who has been the subject for much of what man, and to a lesser degree woman, has always deemed as the benchmark for the idea of beauty in the female form?—None other than Miss Venus herself as per the Romans and Aphrodite for the Greeks. Not to worry ladies, we have always had Adonis to look to as our “perfect” male….digress, digress

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For years artists looked to this idealized concept of Venus as a measuring stick for feminine beauty. Why would we think that Roman and Greek society created and cultivated a blonde haired blue eyed image as the set standard for beauty when most likely the original concept of our miss Venus was more likely to have had olive toned skin with raven colored wavy hair?

I think the blonde hair blue eyed business being the poster child for beauty has out played itself—not that blonde hair with blue eyes is not a striking match—but let us be mindful that other combinations are equalling as striking and beautiful—be it brown eyes with curly black hair, green eyes with red wavy hair, hazel eyes with short silver hair… ivory skin, ebony skin, fair or dark, the list goes on.

Beauty is truly so much more than skin deep and shallow surface image. I know that, you know that, but try telling the younger generations anything differently. They might as well be wearing blinders as they are forced to focus constantly and confront a mind altering bombardment from the Fashion Industry, the Healthcare / Cosmetic industry and let’s not forget Tinsel Town–of which none will ever let up hammering home the need for the relentless quest to be beautiful at all costs.

So here I was on a short out of town trip with a life long friend who, after a long travel day looked at me, as I had showered and was getting ready to go to bed, and flatly stated “you don’t need to pluck you eyebrows anymore.” Oh dear Lord, if she’s noticed, then countless others have noticed! My eyebrows…or rather my lack of eyebrows—is a true concern. “I don’t pluck them, they’ve simply disappeared.” I reply dejectedly.

Now you must know that women of a certain age tend to lose things….hair being one them–hair, as well as its once luscious rich color. Also, anyone who lives with a bum thyroid can understand my plight as a bum thyroid is most certainly the culprit to the lack of eyebrows—as it is in my case. I have Hashimoto’s disease—best put it is the plight of a thyroid that can’t make up its mind…life on a roller coaster of thyroid hormone production—too much / too little. It sends ones’ weight on a wild ride, ones energy on a manic track of excess and lack and it sends ones hair literally down the drain.

I do take a prescription to help regulate my levels but I don’t think that does anything for my hair. My hair is now rather thin and my poor eyebrows are almost non existent.

There are eyebrow pencils—but my grandmother used those things and looked like a living cartoon. There are tattooed eyebrows but those are a little too permanent for the control freak druthers of mine. My hair usually is long enough to cover at least one eyebrow and I usually hope my glasses hide the other one.

“Ohhhh” my friend responds with almost giddy glee. “Get your computer, we’ve got some ordering to do”….. It seems she found a company that has a line of natural looking pigment powders used to “fill in the gaps” as it were for woman who are in need of such.

My friend recently lived through a battle with breast cancer, of which she has emerged on the other side victorious. She suffered through rounds of chemotherapy that robbed her of precious hair. In order to manage appearing as “normal as possible” while she fought and battled, she found this eyebrow powder. I tried a little…hummmm…”See,” as she hands me a mirror, “you look 10 years younger…” “maybe so” I begrudgingly admit.

My powder arrived yesterday. It has a set of little stencil templates of various sizes with mine obviously being on the fine end of the bushy brow spectrum. Three powders to match my existing hair color tone and the cutest little brush applicator.

If you happen to see me out and about in the near future and find yourself wondering what it is that is now “different” about my appearance….just know that it may be the fact that I now have two wooly bear caterpillars living above my eyes….

There is beauty and then there is necessity…..

An American Beauty-berry?

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.
George Eliot

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(Photograph: the purple variety of the American Beautyberry–Callicarpa Americana / Troup County, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

I know what you’re thinking…Julie, why do you have a picture of some purple berries when you obviously mean to be chatting about Fall? And what in the heck is an American beauty…berry of all things?

Ahhhh, not to fear, I have not lost my mind. These delightful little berries are indeed very much all about Fall. I know you were looking, no doubt, for beautiful images of leaves…those of the Autumnal foliage color variety gregariously showboating flames of oranges, red, and golden yellows….We must remember, however, that it’s still September and this is Georgia…we won’t have those sorts of displays for at least 3 more weeks to perhaps even a month longer. I’ve got to make do until then with what we do have available way down here in Dixie.

Look what I found while traipsing out in the woods last weekend. “How terribly pretty are those berries” I thought to my self…how beautiful the brilliant lavenderish purple played off the light yellow green leaves. Not ever claiming to be a botanist, I knew I’ve seen these bushes and berries out in the woods before but assumed that it must be a sort of sumac and no doubt deadly. I was wrong. I know that is quite a revelation for me to admit, my having been wrong, but just don’t let my husband know……remember he’s convinced the wild pears in the woods are poisonous, this news would rock his world….

Once home I conducted a little research looking up information on a southern bush with bright purple berries which appear in the Fall. The very first entry was indeed my plant. It is the American Beautyberry–and is not only relegated to the woods but people actually add these showy little beauties to their yards for landscaping.

They are native to the southern regions of our country and have been used for all sorts of purposes by Native Americans…and no, they are not poisonous—however I’m not about to dash out and consume any part of them as I tend to always be a little leery of bright pretties that grow in the wild. Seems they have been used medicinally for centuries and are also used to repel mosquitoes, flies and more importantly in my world…fire ants. Seems farmers and ranchers in Texas have smeared these pretty little berries on their horses and cattle in order to provide the livestock a little relief from all sort of biting and stinging creatures.

Have you ever flown into Atlanta’s Harstfield-Jackson International Airport and seen the sculptures of the fire ants lining the ceiling out near the baggage claim? Next time in town, look up and you will spy a larger version of my arch nemesis parading along the ceiling and walls. I’ve always thought that instead of the Falcons or the Braves, our sports teams should be the Fire Ants, as that is what seems to be holding the understructure of this state together—one giant red dirt fire ant mound…uggghhh. This should not be news to any of you if you’ve read any of my post regarding my time outside—-simply put, I despise fire ants….I often wonder if it just wasn’t proving to be a really bad day when God made the fire ant—maybe that was after the whole Garden of Eden incident….but I digress….

What a wonderful discovery my time in the woods provided last weekend. I now know a little more than I did before venturing out for my hike. Don’t be surprised if the next time you see me outside, either working in the yard or merely going for a nice walk, if I’m not smeared in a pretty bright purple goo. You’ll just know that I am sporting a little American Beauty…berry.
Take that fire ants!!!

The Pumpkins are coming, the pumpkins are coming!!

“Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He’s gotta pick this one. He’s got to. I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.”
Linus from It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

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Wait a minute.
Those are not pumpkins Julie.
Those are….acorn squash!
Well…. maybe not exactly pumpkins but they kind of look like little pumpkins….don’t they?
Acorn squash…pumpkins… pumpkins…acorn squash…one half dozen or the other….all in the family if you ask me. And since I haven’t gone to pick out my fall pumpkins yet (no, I didn’t grow any in the garden this year, I grew tasteless watermelons remember??), acorn squash will just have to do!

I love Fall and I love the subtle little fall decorations…pumpkins, indian corn, wheat, acorns, colorful leaves, my turkey plates….. Turkey plates? Yes, well a tad early for that but I’m on a roll here…..dried corn stalks, hay bales and more pumpkins.
And the colors…let’s not forget about the colors…
Beautiful warm browns and creams, burnt oranges, golden yellows, crimson and burgundy reds,….
And of course the weather…cool and crisp…soon, maybe soon, there will be a nip in the air and it will turn cool and crisp…maybe….yes, maybe soon……

So I got really excited, when I was at the grocery store earlier this week, and I spied the pretty acorn squash. Excitedly I look around. Gourds and squash are one thing but where are the pumpkins? Why don’t they have the pumpkins? There are already freaking Christmas trees with decorations at a great many of the retail stores and scattered all throughout the catalogs, so where are the pumpkins?? (don’t get me started on this Christmas business—we ate breakfast at a Cracker Barrel a couple of weeks ago– can you believe they had up a Christmas tree with decorations???!!…I’m sorry, is it still September or what??!!…..blast commercialism!!!….digress on that till later)—

Tomorrow I will go on my quest for Pumpkins. I will seek out my larger home improvement stores (aka Home Depot and Lowes) as well as the smaller local garden supply shops. I will seek out the produce market and fruit stands. I may even have to go to a local farm that has a pick your own patch…but I will find my pumpkins!!

I found these lovelies last year (I had more but this was the better shot)—the pink ones are the breast cancer pumpkins…yes, you heard me correctly, breast cancer pumpkins. A portion of sales of these pumpkins went to Breast Cancer Research….pretty cool eh? And yes, I usually get the standard orange globule pumpkins but I rather think the trendy heirlooms are quite lovely and very unique.

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I’ll let you know what I find. As Linus sat undeterred and waited for his Great Pumpkin to appear, I too will wait for my great pumpkins

On Halloween night, the ‘Great Pumpkin’ rises out of the pumpkin patch, then flies through the air to bring toys to all the good little children everywhere. Wouldn’t you like to sit with me in the pumpkin patch on Halloween night and wait for the Great Pumpkin?
Linus

LINUS AND SALLY MISTAKE SNOOPY FOR THE GREAT PUMPKIN

I can’t sit around waiting that long, I’m going tomorrow……

Where has the time gone Dad?

To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter.
Euripides

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I don’t know about that Euripides…I don’t think my dad would agree with you.
Recap of today’s visit…..
A knock on the door sets the lastest weekly visit in motion.
My stepmom ushers me in the house with a smile. Smiles are good.
We exchange pleasantries and I wander into the den. Dad use to get up and come into the kitchen when he’d hear me come in.
He’s sitting in his chair reading the paper…..

“Hi Dad”
“uh, hello”
“How are you doing Dad?”
“uh, I don’t know”
“What do you mean you don’t know Dad, you not feeling good today?”
“I don’t know.”
“Dad, are you feeling bad today? Are you sick?”
“No…uh…I don’t know—quit hassling me!”
“Dad, I’m not hassling you, I merely asked how you are today”
“Dad, do we have anything we need to do in the office today (aka my old bedroom)?”

Gloria intervenes…

“Don’t you remember, you were going to file away all that paper work and bills from last week.”
Funny how quickly I can forget the “fun” stuff…..
Gloria and I make our way up the hall, back to my old room, leaving Dad and his paper in peace just as he wants me to do…..

“I think he woke up a little grouchy”
“Don’t you think that perhaps it’s because he knew I was coming today?” I add chuckling a bit to lighten my own discomfort.
Gloria goes into her pursuit of the continued push to get Dad to embrace the idea of moving to an assisted living facility. How the filing cabinet needs to be purged–as she starts pulling some winter clothes out of the closet.
“I really like these pants but they’re too old and dated. I think I’ll take them to the tailors. The legs are too wide for flats, what do you think?”
“That’s a good idea. Are there any new file folders?”

Gloria wanders out with clothes in hand. I begin pulling out files that are really erroneous to the current crisis of bills and statements. A file for mother when she was our girl scout leader. A file on me when I was teacher of the month… directions to my house… printouts of my students long past winning various accolades for their art…. a file folder full of mini copies of the Constitution, always good to have I suppose…and then I find a couple of folders regarding my late brother. I open the file and find scrawled on the outside of an old envelop “happy father’s day to a dad who made a difference”

Are you kidding me? My Dad, each and every day, laments and mourns over my brother. You need to read a previous post Forgiveness one step at a time in order to understand those dynamics. Seeing this tattered old envelope I think how special that would be to me had I been the parent to have lost a child to such nonsense. Here was a small glimmer that a positive connection had indeed been forged…that to me would have been somewhat of the closure that Dad thinks has totally eluded him all these many years later—instead of holding onto that small revelation—he bemoans all that he must have not done causing the inevitable suicide. Yes he does have an obsessive sickness with all of this and yes he’s seen doctors regarding all of this business years ago– who simply prescribed anti-depressants. That’s all in a previous post……

I hear that familiar shuffle making its way down the hall.
“Hi Dad. I’m almost finished”
“Good, I need you to go down to the basement with me”
“OK Dad, let’s go”

I follow my dad down those awfully steep stairs that has all of us a little nervous over both of them traversing daily. He seems to maneuver down the stairs better than he does walking down the hall.

It’s a large cavernous unfinished room of a basement dating the house back to its inception of 1958. Here in this dark empty place resides the remnants of various peoples lives. Gloria’s previous lives. My grandmother’s pieces of furniture that Gloria decided from the get go were not her cup of tea. Mother’s things. Office furniture from my grandfather’s business that have been down there, gathering dust and rust, since 1967. My brother’s small scale train set, still set up and mounted on the huge piece of plywood board spray painted green and brown.

“Don’t you want to get this stuff?” he half asks and half tells me.
“Well Dad, you know my car isn’t that big. Maybe I can get a couple of the little tables.”
By now Gloria is down there trying to unload the entire contents of the basement on me at this very moment.
“You need a big truck”
Yes, well, not having one of those handy, I’m limited and try explaining that to her.

I grab some hand trucks and begin the hot push and pull through the yard up to the driveway and my unsuspecting car.
“You can’t do that by yourself” she commands.
Now she tells me…
“Go across the street and ask those yardmen to come help”
“Don’t worry Gloria, I’ve got this”
My dad is waiting by my car where he helps guide the table that I’m precariously attempting to lift into the back of my car. I like to think I’m still a bit strong, but this almost was too much for me to handle. My husband would be having a fit if he could have seen me.
The thought suddenly occurs to me that we must look like the 3 stooges attempting to lug these tables to and fro with nary any assistance from the neighbor’s yardmen; most likely providing a little entertainment.

“I’m going to fix us all a ham sandwich” as Gloria darts for the house leaving me and Dad to head back down to the basement. Lord please don’t let him (or me) slide in this wet grass in those slick bedroom slippers of his… I silently pray. Funny how he can traverse the yard and basement when the circumstance demand…….

“She says we’ve got to go”
“I know Dad, but it will be a lot less overhead for you to worry about”
“This is my home, I’ve been here over 50 years”
I know Dad, but we don’t have to sell the house”
“We don’t?!”
“No, you know Brenton and Abby, after they get married just may move to Atlanta, they’ll need a place to live….they can be the keepers of your house”
“Really?!” For the first time I hear his voice lighten.
“Dad, we don’t ever have to sell the house. They can live here, Brenton has always loved this house”
Which is something crazy to me because growing up in this house— I hated it…I always felt so claustrophobic in this house.

“Oh, well, that’ll be good”

For the first time since any of this assisted living business was first mentioned and the thought of a possible move hung over his head, Dad seemed to relax a little. He softened up, and suddenly, I was no longer the enemy….even though the move had been Gloria’s idea from the beginning…..hummm…
We head up to our awaiting sandwiches.
“Dad you want me to pass you the pickles?”
“You know I don’t eat pickles”
Of which I do but at last he’s finally responding to me happily as in times past, as he devours his sandwich leaving, as always, the crust behind…

No Dad, we don’t have to sell your house………..

When is a leaf not a leaf?

“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”
― Phaedrus

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When is a leaf not a leaf you ask….When it’s an impression in the sidewalk….

If you haven’t been to Savannah, perhaps you have seen the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or perhaps you’ve seen pictures. Perhaps you have seen shots of the famous Forsyth Park fountain. We’re having a wedding here in June you know…. This is a large beautiful and scerne park. Ancient oaks draped in ethereal spanish moss line the diverging walkways which all converge at the beautiful fountain…

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Along the walkways, if you happen to glance down, as you walk along the light dappled paths, you may notice that the concrete has the impression of leaves all throughout the walkways in the park. A nice little subtle touch. Chances are not many guests who walk the park notice to look down…I found the pressed leaves to be a lovely added nuance of wonderment to an already wondrous place.

The whole impression leaf thing, which, mind you, look like very real leaves complete with vein details and foliage defects, had me thinking about life and what constitutes a genuine life verses something that is made to look genuine and real. Genuineness is something that seems to be a rare commodity in this flash in the pan thing we call life in this western society of ours.

So many people try to pretend that they are something or someone that they are not. False wealth, false bodies…phony folks who attempt hiding behind name brand this and that, all who desperately try to climb the proverbial ladder of success by hook and crook–which actually leads to no where. Turn on any television or look through any magazine to hear and see the falsehoods otherwise known as advertising….promises that you will look younger, thinner, taller, richer, happier, hairier–your teeth will be whiter, your skin clearer, your posture straighter….I never knew we were in such bad shape.

Why do we all try so hard to pretend to be something we are not? Who cares that we’re not all “cutting edge”— that we’re not all Über trendy chic, not all driving the latest greatest luxury cars, we’re not all wearing the haute couture of the latest name brand designer….We spend so much time, money and energy working to mold ourselves into our perfect concept of who we should be. Whatever happened to being”real?” It’s as if real is not good enough anymore. We need real to be bigger and better. Perhaps real is too real and we didn’t like what we saw. Pity…
I miss real.
I miss genuine.
I miss authentic.
I miss not knowing what it is I’m getting from the get go.
Who can you trust? “Do I look good in this, or is it too tight, too young?” “Oh no, you look wonderful” …doesn’t matter that you’re 20 years too old and 20 pounds too heavy for whatever it is the sales person is trying to hustle your way….

Oh the sad list goes on and on and on….

The 20th century civil rights leader, educator and theologian, Howard Thurman put it best:
“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

Refuse to dangle by the string that is being pulled by someone other than yourself—be genuine, be authentic. Dare to be the real person God made you to be……