Hodge Podge and Pumpkin Muffins

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

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(lovely Italian restaurant in Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2012)

I have a friend who prefers viewing my blog only on the days I choose to focus on food or offer a little recipe or two… and not that I offer a plethora of recipes as my intent has not necessarily been to create another food blog in an already existing sea of on-line food sites. I do certainly enjoy cooking and it is indeed a creative outlet, as well as catharsis, but it is not my sole passion.

Which of course got me thinking…what is this blog business of mine all about after all anyway?

The other day I was out helping my husband with a little project of his when I asked, in jest mind you, how much it was that he intended on paying me for my assistance. He shot back a little too quick for my liking “the same amount that blog of yours pays…”
Oh the low blow of it all, the pain, the sting and sadly—the truth.

It is true that I do tend to pour heart and soul into this thing lovingly known as “the crumbs”—and why is that you ask? “It’s not like your’e getting paid”, you say. “What’s the point?!” Well. . .I’m not quite certain.

I did have a post, shortly after beginning the blog, entitled “why a blog”—it had everything to do with having just retired and leaving the classroom. The need to still “teach”. I’ve even eluded to my secret wish to having been a writer— it’s just that I don’t have anything specific or in particular that I necessarily want to write about. Being the next great novelist is not my cup of tea as I’m not one for fiction.

I suppose hodge lodge best sums up “the cookie crumbs” —it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that—which is a lot like my cooking techniques. . .and some might say that the concept of a little bit of this and a little bit of that mirrors my bar tending skills, but we won’t go there as I’m simply digressing. . .again.

And so it is with the thought of hodge podges and the this and thats of life that I shall leave you today. . . along with a delightful recipe for Pumpkin Muffins. I found this several years ago in an issue of Cooking Light–and of course tweaked and amended a la cookie..please enjoy:

Pumpkin muffins
–1 cup all- purpose flour (about 4.5 ounces)
–½ cup whole wheat flour (about 2.5 ounces) –this is where I grind oats in a food
processor using ½ cup ground oats—Quaker instead of the whole wheat flour
–1/2 cup granulated sugar
–1/2 cup packed brown sugar
–1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice
(here is where I just add my own cinnamon, fresh grated nutmeg, cardamom,
allspice, ginger—whatever floats my boat—plus, I am not precise—a sprinkle
here, a sprinkle there
–1 teaspoon baking soda
–1/4 teaspoon baking powder
–¼ teaspoon salt
–1 can pumpkin
–1/2 cup buttermilk (fat free it you’d like—I have used coconut milk)
–1/2 cup egg substitute, or for purists such as myself, 2 whole eggs
–1/4 canola oil (if no applesauce or grated apples, ½ oil)
–1/4 cup applesauce-– if you don’t have applesauce, I’ve been known to grate half an
apple
** I add 1 cup of a mix of raisins and/ or dried cranberries– if the truth be told,
it’s more like 2 cups—you could also add some nuts if you’d like

Preheat the oven to 375°

**I have discovered that canned pumpkin has a great deal of water that can leach into a batter, changing the consistency, possibly making things too runny. I will usually spread out the pumpkin, using a spatula, onto a double layer of paper towels, allowing it to sit while I prepare the other ingredients. When it’s time to add the pumpkin, I simply scrape it off the paper towels, which has absorbed the extra moisture, with the spatula, adding it to the batter.

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1. I spray a muffin tin with Baker’s Joy; you may line the cups as well with paper cupcake cups. You will need one 12-cup muffin pan plus a 6-cup pan as you will have about 16 muffins—or just use two 12-cups pans leaving several cups empty.

2. Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combining flours, granulated sugar, and the next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk till blended. Here is where I toss in the raisins/ cranberries. Coating the fruit with flour helps it to disperse better throughout the batter rather than sink to the bottom.

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3. Combine pumpkin and the next 4 ingredients (through applesauce) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Spoon batter into the 16 prepared muffin cups.

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4. Bake for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool muffins in pan for 5 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on a wire rack

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**If you’re feeling a bit decadent you could throw caution to the wind, ditch the whole “cooking light” concept and frost these puppies with a heavenly cream cheese frosting—now that’s what I’m talking about!!!!

The tale of the demitasse….

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….otherwise known as the folly of youth.

“Pleeeaaassse” (in your head you are hearing the pleading of an 11 year old young girl)

“NO! for the last time!” (in your head your are hearing what she thinks is the ending
of an argument by a 40 something year old mother)

“I don’t understand why not (you are hearing very whiney pouty from the 11 year old). It’s not like you ever use them. They’re just sitting in that chest. You won’t miss just one. I’ll take the real tarnished one. I’m going to make my own, you won’t even have to buy me one. Everyone else has one but me. . .”

It was 1970ish, I was in the 6th grade, antique spoon rings were in—I didn’t have one, I was out—or so I had rationalized in my youthful mind.

It wasn’t like mother ever really entertained. We may have used that silver service once or twice a year–Thanksgiving and Christmas–that was it. Mother hosted her bridge group once a month.. .seven ladies plus mother and not a single demitasse set user among them—nuts–always pistachios, something sweet and whiskey sours. . .but not nary a demitasse cup, saucer nor accompanying tiny little silver spoon intended for the stirring of the little coffees. Nope, these bridge ladies were hard core, not the demitasse set type of refined little old ladies of yore.

No sirree, she wouldn’t miss one little ol spoon—it was all I was asking for, just one. I’d find some sort of wire cutters, snip off the bowl part of the spoon, file down any rough edges— we’ve got sand paper right?— then twist the shaft part around making it into a ring. Piece of cake. Then I too would enter into the world of the “haves”, who were the trendy ones of the 6th grade, verses the “have nots” of which I currently sadly counted myself as one.

I had small fingers right? If she wouldn’t let me have a demitasse spoon, then that cute little salt spoon might work even better. Who wants to sprinkle their salt from some little fancy cup using a tiny little spoon?! What’s wrong with using a shaker?! Wasn’t Mother always having a fit to immediately wash the silver that had come into contact with salt anyway due to corrosion? A tiny little salt spoon would be even better and better yet, no one would miss it.

But that request, plead, demand, was also met with a resounding no. What was the big deal?

How about the time I wanted to be a ghost for halloween and wanted to use my pillow case, cutting out eyeholes. Mother nixed that idea as well. I certainly didn’t understand the big deal. Cut the holes, wear it that night for trick or treating, putting it back on my pillow when it was bed time— voila, easy instant costume! I certainly would’t mind holes in my pillow case. . .I’d be asleep, it wasn’t like I had to look at them.

Or what about the time it snowed and iced. We didn’t have a sled. I didn’t want to use that piece of old cardboard. It would get all soggy. What was wrong with the cookie sheet?! I could use it all day. It would be fine. My bottom would stay nice and dry (yeah right). I’d bring it home once we’d finished “sledding” and sliding, wash it, ignoring the dings, bends and dents— it would be like new. It’s not like anyone ever saw it in the oven.

Necessity was the mother of invention in my small brain. I thought I was being good to be so resourceful, using what we had laying around the house. How truly economical of me, not to mention thoughtful—I was saving trips to the store as well as money!

Sadly however I must report that I never got that spoon ring—homemade or store bought. I was never a ghost for halloween. All the superman capes were old towel rags not the good bath towels I begged to use, and we eventually bought a real sled so the cookie sheets stayed in the kitchen for all the cookies mother wasn’t baking. Did I ever tell you she wasn’t big on cooking—hence the rationale for the use as sleds.

All of these memories have come flooding back throughout my adult life, at one point or another, most notably when I’ve had to tell my son “no” to certain rationalizations of his own youthful mind of invention. Yet it is especially during this time of year, during the holidays, when I find myself pulling out mother’s silver, in order to use it for Thanksgiving, that I lovingly spy the demitasse spoons.

I always open the chest, peering inside to mother’s silver.. . the beautiful pieces she received in 1953 when she got married. Back then, young brides received silver as wedding gifts, as well as pretty fancy china sets. People entertained a great deal. It was a more formal time. Sadly for better or worse, we’ve gotten away from giving such extravagant gifts as those things have escalated in price and value. Girls today tend to be a bit more practical and economical.

Even in the early 80’s, when I got married, girls were not getting the type of presents my mother’s generation received. I “inherited” mother’s silver after she died, as well as her fine china, as I had not received either when I married. Every generation is different I suppose.

I still think the little demitasse and tiny salt spoons are as cute as they can be— even though I’ve never had cause to use them. I’m rather partial to an antique turkey and hen set as my Thanksgiving salt and pepper shakers. And sadly or happily, our Christmas’ fete has become a bit more casual over the years, transitioning to a brunch verses the fancy white linen dinner variety celebration.

For better or for worse Mother, even though you are no longer here in this life for me to say this to you face to face as I do, however, believe you can hear me. . .”you were right!”—it would not have been wise for me to take your sterling silver spoon to cut it up to make a ring that was oh so trendy at the time—I did live to survive my lacking of 1970’s trendy bling.

You were right to tell me “No” that I could not cut up my pillow case. I buy those things today myself and by gosh nobody is cutting up mine! And no matter whether you used them as regularly as I thought you should have, using one’s cookie sheets/ baking pans as snow sleds is an equally poor idea.

I will fully admit that throughout my young life I clung to the immortal words of Anatole France, that I too “preferred the folly of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom.”
However it is now, in this wizened time I call my life, I can honestly say that Mother was always right. And just so you know, “because I said so” is a perfectly fine explanation!

Now where is that silver polish, those little demitasse spoons need a good shine.. .

revealed secrets give way to waiting

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.”
Andrew Wyeth

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(rainy day in Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

Once all the blooms have faded, the last scarlet leaf floats away and those transit warm weather residents have packed up, moving elsewhere, the stories of a season, or sometimes two, reveal, for good or bad, their secrets.

The canopy of trees and shrubs, full of their once glossy leaves, which acted as an insulating blanket, covering and concealing the birth of fawns and the hatching of chicks and poults—all providing sanctuary to the pups and kits who called the woods home, now lay barren, exposed and painfully open to predator and foe.

Our Autumn, Nature’s explosive time of glorious fading, is now giving way to Winter’s often harsh time of waiting and anticipation—Nature’s Advent. It is throughout the long winter, with its snow, rain, ice and cold, that Nature patiently and expectantly waits, hunkers down and fortifies itself while looking forward and toward a Spring which will offer to all the long suffering— a renewal of life.

The cyclical rhythm of life, which so beautifully mirrors that of our deep and abiding faith, is certainly instep as we find ourselves preparing to begin our own season of waiting and watching–expectant anticipation.

On this new day to this new week, may the unseen secret stories of life slowly, yet delightfully mysterious, make themselves known–may you, in your time of expectant waiting and anticipation, find peace with what has been, as well as with what currently is—I pray that your season of Advent will yield not only to hope but to an unparalleled sense of joy. Amen, amen.

Blind color, color blind

Color which, like music, is a matter of vibrations, reaches what is most general and therefore most indefinable in nature: its inner power…
Paul Gauguin
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During the course of my long career in the classroom, I taught several students who were color blind. This always provided an extra challenge during our painting units as regular color theory lessons, with the various exercises on mixing and blending, became quite complicated. Compensating, in order that these students could benefit along with everyone else, made for challenging unit planning.

There was one young man, I recall, in particular, many years ago, who was busy painting a lovely landscape. He was so excited, as he progressed along, that he came running to me with painting in hand asking for my approval. “Look, look, Mrs. Cook–what do you think?” he asked as he proudly showed me his painting.

I noticed how brown the grass was as I could actually see good and well that he was looking at very green grass. I told him that things appeared to be ‘so far so good’ but that he may want to add a touch more green to the grass (we were working on color theory and realistic color combinations). After a bit longer, the same young man came running back, once again with painting in tow, “What about now?” he triumphantly asks.

This time the grass was a heavy sea of brunt umber. “Hummmm” I silently wondered. I then asked him to show me the bottle from which he was getting his “green” paint. He hands me a bottle of burnt umber paint… “see, dark green” he explains.

Ahhh—I immediately asked if he’s ever been told that he may be color blind–of which he replied “no.” I grab a green bottle of paint and red bottle of paint asking what he sees. Shades of yellow browns he tells me. A note goes home letting his mom know of my suspicion and that she may want to have it checked out professionally.

It is not uncommon for males to be color blind with green and red being the prominent colors to “suffer”—it’s a lovely lesson on the rods and cones of the eye as well as chromosomes–all of which I will leave to the experts to explain.

Years later, in one of the advanced painting classes, I had a young woman come to me the first day of class explaining that she was completely color blind–that she only saw shades of gray. Talk about a challenge. Here we were in an upper level painting class and she tells me she can only denote shades of grey. Wow. I worried about how effective I could be and what I could offer her in order to make the subject matter relevant and meaningful.

I will say however, as we were working with the concept of texture, light and color, while studying Van Gogh, this young woman produced one on the nicest oil pastel drawings based on a self portrait of Van Gogh that I had ever seen. She took a box of multi colored oil pastels, colors that she saw as only black white and various shades of grey, and proceeded to produce a most vibrant textual image–her take on Van Gogh’s use of color. It was a piece I know Vincent would have loved.

I recall all of this as we, in the northern hemisphere, enter the time of year that is most often void of color. Our time of winter grey skies, dull brown yards, leafless trees of varying tones of grey and brown sticks. A time of monotone shades of shadows and shapes.

Yet just when all appears the same lifeless dull tone, as we mindlessly muddle about bundled and wrapped up like mummies on autopilot, there will be a startling burst of color which punctuates the endless emptiness of the void known as winter. Be it a male cardinal hopping about on the snow, holly berries glistening under a fresh coat of ice—it is as if we are momentarily blinded as our eyes must adjust. We squint almost as if in pain, blinded temporarily by the intensity of which we no longer are accustomed.

These small treats and teases of color offer not only visual interest in a barren landscape but they more importantly offer hope; a sort of life saver in an endless sea of emptiness.

Now don’t get me wrong— I certainly do believe beauty is found in winter–as indeed winter has a crisp, pristine clean, loveliness. However, there can be a bit of a white and grey overload—one that can lead to a dulling of the visual senses.

So as we all prepare to hunker down against the raw wet days of white and grey which lay ahead, be mindful that just when we think life is lacking the fresh beauty of flowers and the emerald shades of succulent leaves, Mother Nature throws us a small treat, hoping to tide us over a bit longer to those brighter more colorful days ahead.

Never knowing what you might find…

“What should I possibly have to tell you, oh venerable one? Perhaps that you’re searching far too much? That in all that searching, you don’t find the time for finding?”
― Hermann Hesse

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(image: freshwater mussel shell, Troup Co, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

Imagine my surprise, or better yet, shock, upon glancing down while out walking in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, only to spy some sort of “sea” shell. My husband is up ahead of me as I, always the ready with camera in hand, scouring the landscape, shout for him to come take a look at what I’ve found.

“What in the world?!” I exclaim. “How in the world did a sea shell get here?!” We are actually very deep in an old growth forest of rural midwest Georgia, nowhere near any sort of ocean nor house for that matter. My husband picks up the shell telling me it’s a fresh water mussel shell, which was most likely taken from the nearby creek by a raccoon, who then enjoyed a “seafood” dinner.

All of which of course got me thinking. It is often amazing what one finds when simply out for a walk–be it in the woods, the beach, a park—and it is always by happenstance, just randomly stumbling upon some small trinket or treasure.

And that is how it is with life. We so often, egoistically, think that we can just take off, going out into the world in order to find our heart’s desire. We try in vain, over and over, attempt after attempt to capture what it is we most often believe will make us oh so happy and content. If only this or if only that. . .and bingo, we’ve got it. . .be it happiness, contentment, inner peace, fulfillment, just fill in the blank.

Yet sadly no matter how hard we search and seek, find and dig, wander and plead, the “it” is just not there.

Then all of a sudden when we are no longer seeking and searching, no longer conscious of our quest, no longer hyper foucsed, no longer consumed, simply out of the blue, “it” is laying at our feet, in plain sight as if it’s been there the entire time. We exclaim, “oh my gosh, how in the world?” as we quietly bend over, picking it up. The dawning of the revelation, the cognizant realization, finally the contented exhale. . .

Maybe we can learn to stop our vain seeking and searching, our mad dashing about, our oh so valiant effort of running about all willy nilly for those most elusive things in our lives just long enough to take stock, realizing that perhaps, the “its” we so desperately are longing for, have been there all along. We’re just so busy and consumed, we don’t / can’t stop long enough to actually “see” that our searching is not necessary—it never was necessary.

The sweet release of letting go as we finally have what “it” is we’ve wanted for oh so very long—blessed contentment has been found—at last. . . but was it ever really missing. . .

be willing…

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”
― Meister Eckhart
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(image: beautiful fall day, Troup Co, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

It may not be easy.
It may seem even pointless.
It might be terribly painful–both physically and emotionally.
It may be impractical.
Despite of and in spite of all of the above, getting up, out of bed, is always the first step.
It is the first requirement of each and every day. Each new morning asks of us but one thing—to get up.

Once we get up, we begin.
For some it may be a painfully slow beginning.
For others, a non stop whirlwind of motion and emotion.
Either way, it is the first step.

Perhaps the day’s prior activities were a bust.
A disaster.
A life changing trauma.
Hitting the rewind button the only empty desperate desire.
And yet, this new morning is calling. It will not be going away.
Pulling the covers up tighter is the first instinct. Screaming or moaning a silent “NO” within one’s brain is the general reflex. And yet the body knows the familiar motion–swing the legs and feet to the side, step down, roll out, sit up, stand up— however you do it, move toward making the physical happen.

It comes each new day whether we want it to or not, for good or for bad–the morning comes.
Meister Eckhart’s call is that we be willing to be a beginner, to begin and start each new day anew.

I see it as potential. As a chance to make things better. Oh no you say, things can’t or won’t be better—but I say to you, oh yes they can. Each new morning offers you a brand new slate. It is your choice of how you write it. No, we cannot change what happened yesterday. It’s all in the books, closed and finished. But today, this morning, that’s different—for it is still empty. It’s just waiting for you to put your fresh mark on things–to turn the bad into good, the sad into bearable, the sorrow toward joy.

It is truly your choice. None of us can change what Life brings our way no matter how hard we try otherwise–to give back the tragedy, the diagnosis, the final notice, the poor results, the losses, the sorrow, the pain, the poor lot we are given. . .
But it is our choice of how we deal with it all–and it is each new morning that offers us that opportunity to begin again anew.

Either we choose to be a beginner this brand new morning— or we don’t—but I don’t foresee much in the way of anything good from choosing the no, the not this day, I’ll wait till tomorrow.. .

Make the choice, the effort to be a beginner and change your world, each new morning, one new day at a time—it’s all we are promised in this life, a new morning, a new day, a new chance.

This is a familiar litany of mine and I think it is because I know how hard those mornings can be. Maybe I am saying all of this to myself, encouraging myself to get up and go. We all need encouragement. May this be yours. . .

Be willing to begin—this is all I’m asking.

Reflection

Around and around the house the leaves fall thick—but never fast, for they come circling down with a dead lightness that is sombre and slow. Let the gardener sweep and sweep the turf as he will, and press the leaves into full barrows, and wheel them off, still they lie ankle-deep.
Charles Dickens

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(image of fallen leaves upon a creek / Troup Co, Georgia /Julie Cook/ 2013)

As the Northwest winds whip our usually temperate southern air into a frenzy, ushering in the first truly bitter cold temperatures of the season, the day is busily spent readying for Winter’s official, albeit a month early, arrival. Hoses are emptied and packed away, bird feeders are cleaned and refilled. All potted plants must be moved– especially the large potted fruit trees still bearing green fruit, all indoors to “safety”, as once again we prepare for another time of transition.

All sounds rather “Marthaesque”, as in that diva of DYI, but trust me, it is anything but as it is just me, myself and I who are/ is doing a frantic haphazard job of herding things here and there lest the freeze takes any prisoner tonight.

Today I sit on the edge of yet another birthday. I find myself breathing an inward sigh of neurotic relief as it appears that tomorrow I will have lived one year longer than my mother had as she had lost a battle with cancer 27 years ago at the age of 53. I think any child who ever loses a parent relatively early in life has a secret fear that theirs is to be the same fate—a paranoid fear of destiny and family health–adopted or not.

As we now find ourselves approaching the often dark dreary months of old man Winter, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling as if this time of year can be a bit disconcerting. Of course there are the holidays to look forward to—and I do count Thanksgiving as one of those special holidays. However our huge retail shopping giants, sadly do not. Those massive sultans of sale merely gloss over Thanksgiving using it as a simple measuring stick as when to open up the madness known as Black Friday, which this year is turning into Black Thursday.

How terribly sad it is that we barely take time, if at all, any longer to honor the founding of our nation. Reflecting on how far we have come since the disembarking at Plymouth Rock. No matter one’s nationality nor of the colorful melting soup pot we have become, America still harkens back to a group of wayward people who risked their very lives in order to settle and claim a new land as their own. Slowly our Nation’s official day of recognition and Thanksgiving has become but a mere blip on the radar as thoughts of sugar plums and shopping dance in our heads.

The holidays will usher in a whirlwind of activity of the be here and be there variety. The angst of family gatherings are already looming large in many people’s minds covering them with a thick blanket of dread. The juggling of spending time here and there, the family members who for good or bad, come calling, or worse, chose not to call; the sheer magnitude of the number of those who will flood the highways and the Nation’s airports, is almost enough to make many people scream a collective “no thank you”!!

We have a wedding, in this small family of ours in order to look forward to, as our son and his fiancé will say “I do” in June. There is a great deal to be done between now and then which will certainly keep all parties involved hopping. Perhaps it is always good to have something waiting in the wings in order to help one stay focused with the whole looking forward rather than backwards business, as is often the case during the bleaker months of the year.

As the “black dog” of a cold melancholy begins nipping at my heels. . . for all sorts of reasons, I will pull my jacket a bit tighter to ward off the chill, I will force myself out and about seeking the sun on the days it decides to visit and I will think of what will be rather than sadly what was, or was not, or has passed by.

Reflection is good and often offers comfort, but too much can be a bit heavy and oppressive, as in the dusty mothballesque scent of those blankets and winter coats that are just now emerging from the trunks and closets where they have lain dormant for these many months.

So here is to birthdays, remembrances, holidays, family, winter, and snow. For good or bad, it all comes, and for good and bad it all goes. . .

I want to be sure of you

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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The above image is of my two cats. They are not related and differ in age by almost 5 years with the smaller orange puff ball on the left being the “old lady”. Do not let her fur fool you, she only weighs a tad over 5 pounds. The lean long one, my “little boy”, on the right is just 2 years old and weighs a whopping 15 pounds.

These two cats are both rescues. They have come into our lives to only enrich our world. I know what your’e thinking…you’re saying you know how cats can be—temperamental, distant, self-centered. But these two are different, with the younger one especially being most attentive, attached and engaging—not only to us, but to the older orange cat as well.

There is something quite touching and wonderfully assuring when watching and observing the behavior of two animals, especially animals that are not related by any sort of litter, with even those of different species being most magical, who develop deep bonds. Yes, I do believe pets, as those among us who have pets will no doubt agree, that pets do and can love us as we love them. I also believe that animals can feel a sense of “love” in the bonds that are forged between not only pet and owner but with a “fellow” or similar pet.

I say all of this as I ponder over the bonds and relationships we all develop in our lives. Be it bonds between family, friends, lovers, pets—we all seek a connection. It is an intrinsic need I suppose, that of connection. We yearn to bond with others. We bond with other people and we bond with animals–I suppose we have been hardwired to “bond”—as we are created by and in love to in turn love and be loved.

So imagine my deep emotion over this particular image that was posted on a blog that I follow. The image has been making the rounds on the internet and even through news media outlets throughout this past week.

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My friend Father Hugh, a Benedictine monk and priest who is from Australia and is currently serving in his ministry in England, has a blog that is both thought provoking as well as a place of comfort and refuge (http://hughosb.wordpress.com )

It was on his blog where I first saw this recent picture of Pope Francis embracing and praying fervently for a man who has what I am assuming to be the dreaded disfiguring disease of leprosy—and if not leprosy, an equally disfiguring disease.

At first glance one is not certain what it is that the Pope is holding but upon further studying of the image, it becomes clearly apparent and then very off putting and disturbing. The image is difficult to take in. One wants to look immediately away in shock and unease. It is troubling.

I was immediately moved to tears as I looked at the images—yes there are several images of this encounter but I have posted only one. The image has remained with me ever since I viewed it several days ago. There is tremendous power in this image and tremendous compassion.

I imagine life has not been kind to this man. By the looks of a few grey hairs I would suppose him to be in his mid 50’s on up—my age. However I could be wrong and he could be much younger or indeed, older. I would imagine that as the disease has progressed the sense of isolation this man has most likely experienced has also progressed.

I suppose he has been most lonely–as he has not been able to enjoy those moments out with other people that we all take for granted. No dining out, no movies, no trips to the mall, no visits to church, no attending a play or concert—lest the staring, the suddenly hushed tones of those who see him, the whispers, the sense of being most conspicuous–constantly hiding in the shadows as it were. In the middle ages lepers were made to wear a bell around their neck so that others would hear them coming and could avoid all contact.

A human who has been denied the opportunities that the majority of us take for granted of being able to forge our need for the bonds and connections of relationships. Even the very essence of our need as living beings, the need to touch and be touched, all denied this man.

Not only is it hard for me to look upon this man, the thought of touching and embracing him leaves me troubled. Could I so openly reach out physically to this man? I am ashamed that I have to “talk” myself into the actions of simply being a compassionate decent human being.

Pope Francis has given this man a most tender and precious gift–not just his prayers, as you and I can easily pray for this man, but the Pope is filling a most basic human need and desire in and for this man—to feel another human-being’s touch, warmth and embrace. To touch and be touched, to hold and be held, to love and be loved. . . despite appearance, despite disease—all basic needs we all take for granted every day.

There are many lesson here in this image and I shall leave them to you to discern for yourself as we will each, no doubt, take away a different one as it pertains to our different lives—may we be mindful that not all people on this planet are having the basic human needs met. There is tremendous isolation and loneliness for so very many. Not necessarily to the extreme such as a leper , but isolation just the same–the lack of relationships and bonds forged by one human to another.

May we, may I, look beyond the visible surface of appearance–reaching out to those who yearn to be touched and loved and connected. . . to those who just wish to be sure of the companionship of another human being who recognizes that they too are human beings longing for recognition and for the connection of a deep intrinsic bond–to touch and be touched. . . to love and be loved—Amen, Amen

The Spoils of War

“This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”
Neville Chamberlain

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The above image is that of the former allied checkpoint in Berlin, one of three dividing check points, separating East from West or West form East, depending on your luck or lack of— It is the infamous Check Point Charlie. This is the view seen as one would transition from the free American sector to the Soviet sector of the east. On the opposite side of the placard of the young Soviet Soldier is an image of his same American counterpart greeting those traveling to the free West. Only diplomats or “tourists” with permission were allowed to travel to and fro—not so for Germans.

When Berlin fell to the Soviets in 1945, one third of the city had been destroyed due to massive bombing blitz. What remained of the once vibrant cultural city was divided into 4 sectors, sliced like a pie, remnants of a vicious war all going to the Soviets and the 3 major allies; the United States, the United Kingdom and the French. Thus came the deadly spawn of the second World War– the surreal existence known as The Cold War.

The Reichstag, the house of German government dating from 1871 which, in 1933, was a most likely ominous victim of Nazi lies and propaganda, mysteriously burned. The fire ushered in the insidious vacuum known as the Third Reich. But by 1945, as the Soviets powered their way into Berlin, the Reichstag was pummeled once again. Following was a time of neglect and ruin. By the reunification of 1990, the once proud piece of Prussian glory was fully restored, once again being the seat of German Government. Today visitors may view the remaining inflicted death wounds as the bullet holes, grenade holes, and charred remains are still visible–solemn reminders of a wicked past.

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From a window from within the Reichstag one can look out upon the River Spree which flows placidly through Berlin. Along the bank of the Spree is a painfully simple memorial dedicated to the 13 lives lost over the course of approximately 5 years as eastern Berliners attempted swimming to the free West. Tragically each attempt to swim across the expansive river was met with the resistance of a machine gun. Each individual cross represents those who were gunned down by East German Forces as they attempted to swim to freedom.

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Visitors today to a sleek modern Berlin may still see large sections of the remaining visible division of oppression. . .the infamous Wall which separated freedom of democracy from the crushing regime of totalitarianism.

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In March I wrote a lengthy post regrading my visit last Fall to Berlin entitled Taxi Drivers, The Wall and Hope
Today’s post’s intention, however, is not meant to recapture the moments of a trip or to showcase the sights of a now modern city which dominates the European Union, as it is home to the world’s most powerful woman, but rather I’ve chosen to use Berlin as but one small example reminding us on this Veteran’s day, this Armistice day, this Remembrance Day that we must be ever mindful that the cost of our freedom has been and continues to be exceedingly high.

Today’s post could very well feature cities throughout the world such as Beirut, Phnom Penh, Dresden, London, Sarajevo, Budapest, Osaka, Tokyo, Hiroshima… No matter the global location the results are always the same with the sad ending being that at the end of the remains of the day, following any war, it is always messy and terribly convoluted. There will always be fallout and nasty repercussions. All of which usually falls upon our military personnel to pick up the pieces the governmental leaders picked apart.

Theirs is the thankless glamorously lacking task of ensuring peace and safety as they are always the ones left to offer aid in the cleaning and rebuilding. They have been scorned, belittled, maligned, resented, shot, wounded, maimed, blown apart, killed and tragically, often, forgotten. And yet they continue doing their job(s).

As buildings, monuments and lands become known simply as the spoils of war, the easy pitiful pickings and crumbs which are greedily gobbled up by the victor, our servicemen and woman are often sadly the by-products of those spoils.

It is my hope that we, those of us who enjoy the forgotten work and sacrifices made on our behalf by the countless men and woman defending the ideals of freedom and democracy, can work to maintain an awareness never allowing any of our servicemen and woman to be a part of those crumbs, those spoils as it were.

Each day service men and woman are returning home from such far flung places such as Afghanistan and Iraq with not only physical scars and wounds of conflict, but most often, sadly, they return with the unseen aftermath, the mental and emotional anguish and damage that takes such a tragic toll–not merely on the warrior but also of his or her family and friends. Tragically it is those types of wounds, the unseen enemy that remains behind, that, we in the general populace, prefer to ignore as those wounds are not readily “fixable”.

Soldiers came home that way from both World Wars, from Korea, from Vietnam and now they come home broken and damaged from Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet we do little to nothing in the way of support, aid, or help. We live our daily lives with little to no regard to the fact that a conflict of “war” has been going on now in this country for the past 10 years. There is no consolidated war front back home, no ration books, no victory gardens, no nationwide civilian drive to promote the servicemen / woman and their families. No all out show of sacrifice and support from the nation left behind known as the “home front”

Times have certainly changed.
It seems it is now left to the wives, mothers, fathers and children of our servicemen and woman to provide the sweeping show of support that often goes unnoticed by the general population–that is until a day such as today, Veterans Day, rolls around. Then we all take pause to reflect, yet by Tuesday we are back to normal—that is for everyone but the solider and his or her family.

Freedom is never free.
May we not take it for granted on this Veteran’s day, or any other day. . .

I’m including a couple of links that may offer the casual reader of this post a place to begin if the desire to do more than reflect stirs within ones thoughts—-

http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org
http://troopssupport.com
http://www.militarysupportgroups.org
http://www.military.com/spouse/military-life/military-resources/how-to-support-our-troops.html
http://www.supportourtroops.org