The wings of eagles

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(image: blade eagle soaring above the trees on the Pacific Rim trail, Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2010)

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31
English Standard Version (ESV)

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(Eagles perched in a tree somewhere along the Oregon Coastal Hwy between Yachats and Cannon Beach, Oregon / Julie Cook / 2013)

Hope from the flowers

“What a lovely thing a rose is!… Our highest assurance of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

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Crazy thing—this sweet little demure rose belongs to a small potted rose bush which sits out on my front porch. It is the small little rose bush I reported on, and wrote a post about, back in May–the one my son and his bride-to-be bestowed upon me for Mother’s Day. It was a beautiful petite white rose bush. And of course the tiny white roses reminded me of the young German resistance movement championed by Sophie Scholl, her brother and a handful of youthful friends, which lead to the creation of the White Rose Movement.

Time moved on and Summer came and went. Fall came and went. The small rose bush hung on. Winter has arrived settling in upon us like an old thick heavy blanket with the poor little rose bush having maintained its position on the front porch since May. Days have turned into weeks and my forgotten little friend out on the front porch has weathered first the dry hot days of a Georgia summer and now the freezing temperatures of a wet cold dreary winter. This poor little rose has gone days without much water, care or attention—and yet, it holds on and perseveres.

Imagine my surprise, when I was out front taking down all of the Christmas lights this afternoon in the blowing wind and rain, upon seeing my tiny little rose bush sporting a single beautifully pink tinged bloom.
Hummm–I thought this was a white little rose bush. . .?
Is this a marvel or anomaly? Amazingly through the ups and downs of the seasons, the lack of water and proper care, the extreme heat and now the extreme cold–this little rose bush has not only survived, it appears to have actually thrived. . . as well as taking on a bit of a new color.

Could it be that maybe, just maybe, perhaps this tiny little plant is simply offering me a bit of hope for the excited anticipation of warmer and brighter days? A precursor of what will soon be?

It is on this new day to this new week of the last waning days of yet another year, that I offer to you this sweet demure rose—it is our reminder, your’s and mine, that not only is a new day and a new week dawning but there is a new year waiting for us in the wings, for better or worse, to offer us a new start, a new way, a new life, new hope, new dreams, new possibilities. Sometimes all we need is a single little flower to remind us that there is always hope for goodness and new possibilities. May you be cheered on by the sight of a single small rose—here is to a hopeful new year–for us all.

Plus Merveilleux or Butter Part II

“O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! And yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all hooping.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

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Part II to Presents of Purpose—from yesterday’s post:
As my students so irritatingly use to say when something grand took place—OMG! Now you and I are not phones so “text talk,” as I use to call it, has no place in face to face conversation or any sort of conversation, but try telling that to teenagers. However, at this moment, I suppose I must make an exception as what has transpired here is truly a wonderful marvel—a marvel indeed!!

BUTTER, we actually made butter!!!
The real deal! An amalgamation of an unctuous tongue coating sublime byproduct all from a cow– BUTTER!!
It worked!! The little shaker jar worked!! I must feel like Edison or Bell when their little tinkerings actually produced light and sound—amazed and elated all rolled into one.

But Julie, for Heaven’s sake, it’s just butter for crying out loud.
Just butter you say?!
Not just butter. . . but rather light, fresh, clean homemade wonder in a jar.
This little jar has produced something that I, until today, have only been able to procure from a store or vendor—never from my own kitchen.
The possibilities, imagine the possibilities. . .
The gears in the ol brain are turing now!!!. . .

This little gift, has in turn, given me not only joy and wonderment but tremendous possibilities for creativity as well as self satisfaction–and of course the added plus of tastebud pleasure. Who would have thought a little box with a little jar could bring such simple joy and pleasure?!

After the cream sat in the shaker jar for the specified 8 hours, and after I picked up my aunt from the side of interstate I-75, I came home to shake the jar as directed for about 3 minutes. At which point I strained off the resulting “buttermilk.” I was instructed to next add cold water to the jar and shake some more. After which I poured off the water while the resulting butter accumulated in the small ramekin attached at the bottom of the jar. Unscrewing the jar from the ramekin, I was amazed at what I beheld sitting before me. There amassed within the small white ramekin was a soft creamy off-white clump of spreadable butter. Sprinkle with a little salt, gently blending and VOLIA!!!

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And for my second act, I’m thinking herbs de Provence, or maybe honey cinnamon, or maybe red pepper, or maybe garlic, or maybe. . . mmmmmmmm so so good and so so wonderful!!!

Presents of purpose

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”
― Julia Child

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I’m so excited!!
Do you want to know what my son and his bride to be presented me Christmas morning?! It was a basket–but just not any ol’ basket. This basket full of Christmas cheer was actually full of fun little knick knacks–knick knacks especially for the kitchen–or rather, knick knacks to use while in the kitchen–as that is the place in which I spend the majority of my time on this earth.

Julia Child, who I have written about before, was one of my hero figures while growing up. I won’t rehash the stories from the previous posts (“Butter to my Bread” 10/4/13 and “Feast and Fellowship 3/19/13) but suffice knowing that it was tops on my bucket list to meet Julia—but alas, Julia finished her bucket list before I began ticking off mine.

To say that she was an inspiration would be putting it mildly. My generation grew up, watching with our mothers, the original episodes of the French Chef. She became a mainstay in my world as she was the user friendly chef. She was not pompous or arrogant but very real and she very much wanted real women, real American woman, to learn how to really cook really good food. Food that to mom’s such as mine, which had only been seen in magazines or dreamt about but not something ever thought attainable, was now possible due to Julia coming on the scene in the early 60s.

Most mom’s such as my mother were not world travelers who wined and dined in fancy restaurants in such worldly places as New York, Paris or Rome. My mom was a stay-at-home mom in the late 50’s and early 60’s who was busy raising her kids. Sadly I remember the day when my mom discovered the cooking bag, minute rice and hamburger helper. May we just say right here and now my mom was not meant to be nor did she care to be a culinary wizard by any stretch of the imagination.

And maybe that is why I gravitated to the kitchen. Maybe it was the art teacher in me wanting to try the hand of creativity at an early age. Maybe it was the adoption thing (remember, it all comes back to the adoption–as in I am pretty certain that I am the missing love child of Sophia Loren–despite the fact she does not know she has a missing secret love child, but then I digress)—maybe it was simply my being named Julia too—but only after my grandmother, not the grandame of cooking.

Whatever the reason, I found my way to the kitchen and have enjoyed being there ever since. But it must be stated, for the record books however, that I am not some blingy accomplished little food blogger. I just love to cook–cooking for friends and family. . . and as Julia so aptly reminds us, for people who love to eat, as they are indeed the best kind of people. Indeed!!

And so it was on Christmas morning, to my delight, digging through the basket of kitchen knick knacks, that I pulled out the box for the DYI butter kit. OOoooooooo butter!! (do see that previous post won’t you regarding Butter to my Bread).

Now it should be noted that simple things, such as butter, are the mainstays, as well as success, to many a recipe and that any recipe is only as good as the ingredients involved–just as butter is as good as it’s ingredients—which is pretty much a good grade of organic, grass fed, cow’s milk / cream. Throw in a little sea salt and life just doesn’t get much better.

I couldn’t wait to try my hand at this marvel of transformation in a box. The taking of simple dairy cream, pouring it into the special little jar, and for this recipe, waiting 8 hours then proceeding to shake, shake, shake– pouring off the remaining “butter milk”, which leaves behind a ball of “fresh butter”—or so that is how it works in theory.

Now I did try something similar last year–a similar kit from William Sonoma. The WS kit, however called for non pasteurized cream–a commodity that I simple could not locate in my community without having to track down a dairy farmer. Something about the pasteurized cream not being able to totally transform from the liquid to the solid as readily as the non-pasteurized.

Maybe the sitting out at room temperature for the specified 6 to 8 hours helps this store bought pasteurized cream do its thing. Only time will tell.

First, however, I must go meet my aunt who has hitched a ride north from South Florida with a friend who is going to visit her daughter north of Atlanta. I’m driving a ways south to the interstate in order to find my aunt sitting on the side of the road with suitcase in hand. . . or so that’s what she fearfully thinks–(remember this is the aunt who is my world wide travel partner so a little jaunt 10 hours up the interstate for a rendezvous should be a piece of cake!) We are actually meeting at a service station at a specified exit. So as I journey south, then back north, my cream will have plenty of time to “sit”. I’ll shake this evening upon my return.

Stay tuned for Butter part II. . .

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The stories as told by a tree

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”
T.S. Eliot

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(ariel view looking down on the tree and boxes of ornaments / Julie Cook / 2013)

I hope everyone had a very nice Christmas–despite the wicked weather and UPS delays. . .

It seems that life here was so hectic leading up to Christmas Day that my memory of it all is now but a mere blur. People came, they ate, they slept, they ate, they exchanged gifts, they ate some more—then they departed. Now more people are coming today. . . where there will be, no doubt, more eating, sleeping, eating, gift giving, eating, shopping, football, eating, celebrating, eating, then departing sometime next week. Whew!

In between the shifts of company coming and going, I have worked feverishly to purge my house of Christmas. My mother always said you couldn’t carry anything from the old year into the new year so all Christmas decorations–the tree, the lights, etc, must be down and packed away all before New Year’s eve.

I worked like a crazy person on “Boxing Day”–boxing up, packing away, hauling up and down steps, carrying out to the trash.. . yet another Christmas. As “my people” never seem to be home when it’s time to decorate or time to take down, I become a one woman demolition team. It also doesn’t help that I really don’t like my world being turned upside down with the rearranging, moving, adding and taking away which results from decorating for a holiday. I like my world just so.

As it came time for me to dismantle the tree (and yes, our’s is a live tree), I couldn’t help feeling a bit wistful as well as somewhat nostalgic–even as I lugged all of the ornaments boxes, once again, out of the attic, spreading them out all over the floor. I’m not one of those people who creates a “themed” tree. Our tree is a hodge lodge tree full of ornaments dating back to a sunday school class in 1963 when I was a little girl—the ornaments create a bit of a time-line, moving forward through college, on to the ornaments of the newly married followed by the ornaments of our son as a baby then as a little boy coming to now, with an engaged couple ornament. There are the ornaments from various travels and those of various countries. There are the ornaments from my students throughout the years and the cherished ornaments from friends. . .

It seems each ornament has a story. There is the nutcracker ornament my dad gave me shortly after mother died. I had collected nutcrackers when I was a young girl as Santa would bring me a beautifully painted German nutcracker each Christmas– Dad carried on the tradition when I was older by giving me a nutcracker ornament.

I found myself a little sad yesterday as I reached for my nutcracker ornament, gently lifting him from the tree then tenderly placing him in his designated place in the ornament box— thinking about Dad when he actually “thought”–unlike Christmas Day this year when he was just a shell of his former self as my stepmother recounted trough tears the ordeal of dad having lost the car keys this past week—thankfully no, he’s no longer driving–but hence the debacle of his having lost the keys that he doesn’t even use. . .

There are the ornaments that were a part of the trees from throughout my childhood. They are, to me, mother’s ornaments which now tie a piece of her to my own trees and of my life today. There are her little porcelain British regiment soldiers whose heads I have to glue back on year after year. There are even the little glass santa snowmen with the goggly eyes that were actually my grandmothers–and the painted easter eggs that belonged to my other grandmother.

There are the ornaments that various students have given me over the years. As I remove each ornament, I can remember each student as if I’m suddenly being transported to the very spot in the classroom or office when I first opened the gaily wrapped package each student proudly presented. It’s not as common for high schoolers to give their teachers gifts–therefore making each received present truly special and one of a kind. I can recall each face as I gently lift the various balls and figures from the tree.

There are the nativity scene ornaments which my godparents gave me when I was in high school. I cherished those ornaments all those many years ago, so proud that they had thought of me. He was the dean of a massive Episcopal Cathedral so for me to have received such a remembrance was always extra special.

There is the collection of the porcelain angels, with one being what a friend gave me following the death of my brother. There are the beautifully fragile glass Santas, the hand carved birds from Vermont. . .and there are the two tongue depressors turned snowmen that at first glance look quite cheap and homemade and yet they tell quite a story.

I actually first came about my life here in Carrollton by way of another teacher who, at the time, I did not know. She had decided to call it quits mid year in 1982. She was the art teacher of the local high school here and was married to one of the history teachers. She had decided to leave mid year in order to go back to school at the University of Georgia to further her degree. I was the young, freshly graduated, college kid from Atlanta who was hired as the replacement. Eventually I would make the school and the community my home and my life for 31 years.

When her two sons were little boys she was the type of mom who believed that the boys should make their own spending money even at the ripe old age of 7. One Christmas the youngest boy wanted some lego kits. In order to make some spending money she had him make Christmas ornaments. After school, one afternoon, she escorted him from classroom to classroom selling his tongue depressor snowmen. I felt rather sorry for him as he was so quiet and shy, whereas she was rather flamboyant and quite “artsy”— I bought 2 at a $1.00 a piece.

Several years following the sale of snowmen, she was diagnosed with cancer. She raged a valiant fight, but the battle proved too much. She departed this life leaving behind her then teenaged sons and their dad, a very distraught husband and father. A couple of years ago, just prior to my retiring, I finally told my colleague, her widowed husband, the story of the tongue depressors and how, to now honor his wife, each year I place the snowmen in a prominent position on our tree. With tears flowing down his face, he simply hugged me. That seems like such a long time ago.

Each year as I put up the tree, only to be followed by the taking down of the tree, I am constantly reminded of what was—for happy or sad. I am glad to have a tree that tells a story—and delightfully it is a continuous story. There is indeed a beginning, but thankfully, there is no end as it is a constant continuum–with each year building upon the previous year.

Throughout the long year, from Christmas to Christmas, there are adventures that usually witness the procuring of some new trinket intended for a future tree. These mementos are squirreled away until the designated time when they are pulled out of drawers and cabinets, gently unpacked and placed alongside their fellow trinkets, doodads, figures and balls— adding to the continued story of a single family who travels along together on the continuum of a life, for good or bad, inextricably linked forever by a life forged by those who went before us and only to be continued by those who follow suit. The story of a family, as told by a tree. . .

Boxing Day–A day of giving, remembering and recouping

The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.
Saint Teresa of Avila

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Today the boxes, the ribbons and bows, that were just 24 hours prior, tucked neatly and gloriously adorned under the shadows of a festive tree, now lie discarded, being all but forgotten.
The tremendous crescendo of the dizzying frenetic days which lead up to the collision of the cosmos of family, friends, the sacred, the secular, the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the traveling the sharing, the tolerating, the worshiping, the singing, the giving, the taking, the buying, the selling, the ordering, the joy, the reflection, the reverence, the mystery. . .
All sadly over in the blink of an eye.

Today we trudge like automatons through a sensory overload of the leftovers from a frantic month long pace, literally picking up the pieces of family, friends, and of a season now spent. Weary and bleary eyed the skip in our step and the joy to the world on our lips are each suddenly slowed and silent as we find ourselves slowly exhaling.

Tired, we begin to re-pack the treasures and mementos of our lives, back into the dusty musty boxes, sending them back to the tombs of attics and basement and storage for a 3 season hibernation with the hope of returning next December. Yet the echoes of keeping Christmas in our hearts all through the year, for many, will slowly grow all but silent as we transition from the old to the new.

And yet as we prepare to hunker down for the remainder of a long, cold and silent winter with the thoughts of now warmer brighter days toying with the shadows of our dark somber moods, we must lay claim that despite the waning excitement from an advent of long anticipation, the triumphant delivery of Joy, and the passing of old time to new, ours is not a solitary journey.

Yet, as we find ourselves on this morning after, feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost as we sift through the debris of yet another year’s season of festivity– we are awarded a single small respite and an opportunity to suck in a much needed second wind. For today is Boxing Day. A needed day of transition. Below I’ve added a brief history behind this day of deep English tradition or for those of us of the Western Church, the day St Stephen’s Feast. . .

(Information taken from wincalander.com)
Boxing Day History
Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated the day after Christmas in Britain. It’s history dates back to the Age of Exploration. The priest would place a wooden box on each ship and crew member’s would drop coins into in hopes of ensuring a safe return. The box would remain on the ship, upon it’s return, the priest would say a prayer of thanksgiving and in return receive the box and its contents. He would safeguard the box until Christmas, where he would then open it and share the contents with the poor. The “alms box” is a similar tradition observed in many churches still today.

Boxing Day Facts & Quotes
1.In the late 18th century, Lords and Ladies of large estates would practice Boxing Day. They would do this by boxing up leftover food, clothing and other household items. These items would be distributed amongst their tenants and workers the day after Christmas.

2.For Boxing Day, many charitable organizations practice a form of giving boxes to the poor. Operation Christmas Child is one such organization.

3.December 26th is also St. Stephen’s Day for the Western Church. The Feast of St. Stephen honors the first Christian martyr. Stephen was stoned to death outside the walls of Jerusalem, shortly after the Crucifixion.

–Boxing Day Top Events and Things to Do
–Clean out your closets and donate to a local charity.
–Donate to a local food bank.
–Prepare a Christmas box for a charitable organization.
–Donate money to a church or other community group which cares for the poor and elderly.

Christmas Gifts and Mystery

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”
― Sigrid Undset

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(close-up of a portion of a hand carved wooden German Christmas Pyramid)

The Birth Of Theology
No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle in Bethlehem. And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders, that God became human. . .Theologia sacra arises from those on bended knees who do homage to the mystery of the divine child in the stall. Israel had no theology. It did not know God in the flesh. Without the holy night there is no theology. “God revealed in the flesh,” the God-human Jesus Christ, is the holy mystery which theology is appointed to guard. What a mistake to think that it is the task of theology to unravel God’s mystery, to bring it down to the flat, ordinary human wisdom of experience and reason! It is the task of theology solely to preserve God’s wonder as wonder, to understand, to defend, to glorify God’s mystery as mystery. . . Surely Christmas Eve (and Christmas Day) can kindle in us again something like a love of sacred theology, so that, seized and compelled by the wonder of the cradle of the Sone of God, we are moved to consider again, reverently, the mysteries of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Taken from A Testament to Freedom 448
A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer
(parenthesis mine)