The beauty is in the details

“Everything made by human hands looks terrible under magnification–crude, rough, and asymmetrical. But in nature every bit of life is lovely. And the more magnification we use, the more details are brought out, perfectly formed, like endless sets of boxes within boxes.”
― Roman Vishniac

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photo taken this week early one morning / Julie Cook / 2013

Red Sky at morning, Sailors take warning. . .

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DAWN! thou hast every possibility of life! What canst thou not reveal to man in thy flaming sky? Enough thou sayest, to recreate a world of men. Blind are we. How many of us read thy words aright? We pass them by, cold letters, divining not the fire of eternal life behind them burning. Dawn, thy opportunity is full! We, alas, know not the meaning of thy gorgeous page. Dazed we watch thy letters pale; cold embers, left upon the sky; Life’s opportunity flickering into naught.
ELISE PUMPELLY CABOT, “Arizona”

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(both images taken from the back deck / Julie Cook / 2013)

A beautiful early morning opportunity is given for the observation of a brilliant sunrise.
Life is busy.
Busier than I prefer. . .
Alas–it is merely the fate of this holiday season.
Time will simply not permit the leisure of reflection nor the joy of the recording of such.
Yet in the advent of time, the gift of a glorious morning sky, full of the expectation and anticipation of the birth of a new day, simply may not overlooked nor ignored.
This is my small gift to you.

The deep moral of winter

The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.
John Burroughs, “The Snow-Walkers,” 1866

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(frost covered marjoram / Julie Cook / 2013)

Perspective

It all depends on how we look at things, and not on how things are in themselves. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.
Carl Jung

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(aerial view of a traditional German wooden pyramid / Julie Cook / 2012)

Half empty, half full. . .it’s all in how we look at things.

During my interactions with folks within this past week, this last full week prior to Christians marking the birth of Christ or what most retailers mark as the final push toward Christmas with its ostentatious ceremonial gift giving and the annual madness known as Christmas shopping, I have denoted one single underlying theme—a burgeoning wearisome and tiredness–a general lamentation of–“I can’t wait for it all to be over” –always countered with a “I hate to say that” or “I hate to feel that way”. . .

The secular components interlaced and woven throughout the spiritual are sending so many, young and old, into a type of sensory overload. With the news media constantly reporting on retail sales, as if that is the blood pressure reading of an often ailing up and down economy, while also reporting on the traffic nightmares in and around a particular city’s retail giants known simply as “the Mall”. Our calendars are booked and marked with festivities such as the last day of school, which once upon a time was simply known as the Christmas Holiday, is now politically corrected to the Winter break—

There are the Christmas pageants, the Choral performances, the office parties, the neighborhood parties, the gatherings with friends and families, the deadlines, the holiday ski trips, the trips to not only grandmother’s but for some, exotic foreign lands with the “holiday” as an excuse to set sail on Adventure.

Life will come to a slow stop on the 25th as the stores and malls all close for a single day as families and friends gather for the solemn marking of the calendar, as others anticipate and prepare for the following day’s ensuring onslaught known as the “After Christmas” sales and the annual pilgrimage of gift returns and exchanges, marking round two of economic madness.

Amazing how a once young pregnant jewish girl and her young husband, who found themselves in the middle of delivering their first child, in a remote small village in the middle of nowhere Judea, under the light of an astrological phenomenon, sent out the shock waves of a dramatic occurrence which continues the life altering reverberations today.

But the key to the relationship we have with that single event and of how and what we do today in order to mark that single event of so very long ago depends greatly on our perspective. Is it “c”hristmas, with the madness and over the top spending with all of the doings and goings accented by the politically correctness of our overshadowing secularism or is it “C”hristmas which marks the birth of the bridged gap between a consuming Creator and his fallen creation?

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Breath of Heaven

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Mary’s Prayer (Breath of Heaven)

I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I’ve done
Holy Father, You have come
And chosen me now to carry Your Son

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now, be with me now

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, Breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy
Breath of Heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of Your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, Breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy
Breath of Heaven, Breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven
AMY GRANT

This is one of my favorite more modern sung prayers / hymns. The words do not do justice to the tone and inflection of the song–the sung version of a spoken prayer.
The melodic up, downs, starts, stops, trailing off. . .
It is an emotional prayer—
I cannot begin to imagine the humility and wonderment that must have flooded a young Mary as she is foretold of her now tremendous responsibly– so very overwhelming!
Pregnancy alone is a great responsibility, but for it to have taken place in such a miraculous, hidden and holy fashion is, for even many individuals today, most difficult to comprehend.

To say that Mary must have been scared is most likely putting it mildly.
We know Mary was young, most likely around 15 years old, an age when most modern day kids are just getting a learner’s license.
To be a parent at such a young age is most difficult, as I have had many a student who has borne such a burden—
But to do so alone, with no one but a young husband, in the middle of a strange town, with no shelter, no help, no mid wife, no money— all the while knowing that this child is more than merely your first child with a man whom you just recently married–but this child is much, much more–it is simply overwhelming—especially for me and my limited understanding.

I can only imagine the thoughts that constantly played out in Mary’s head during her wait of 9 months. The constant wondering of “why me —I am but a simple jewish girl” . . .over and over.
And yet I also imagine a supernatural peace must have engulfed her—as it must have for Joseph as well—that is until it was time to give birth.

I imagine Mary, uncomfortable and in great pain yet by this time, having now plainly accepted her role and relinquishing herself to a greater plan than her own earthly comprehension, is prepared to do what she has been waiting so long to do. Joseph is now the one more afraid and feeling most helpless. My heart breaks for this young couple at this single moment in time as it plays out millennium after millennium.

Our modern eyes look at the artistic images of a placid little family in a tidy little stable which adorn our holiday trimmings—but I bet it was far from the artistic version which we are so familiar with today in our countless nativity scenes and Christmas cards. This was a birth plain and simple and a birth is never a nice, neat, tidy event. To say Joseph was scared to death would be no illusion.

When hearing these words today, imagined as they are, recalling what could have been the thoughts of a young jewish girl, I am humbled by the sheer magnitude of the situation. I don’t think many of us stop long enough to truly comprehend the resounding implications of such a harrowing circumstance as we busy ourselves with our holiday festivities, but had it not been for this long ago and far away dramatic event, our festivities of today would simply not exist.

May you, during these waning days of Advent, stop long enough during the frantic frenzied days of shopping, working, and of making merry to find a glimpse of the marvelous mystery which is truly a part of this single prayer which must, to some degree, reflect the hopes and fears of a young girl many many years ago.

Frozen in time

Cold in the earth — and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?

Excerpt taken from Emily Bronte’s Remembrance

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(the frozen bird bath, Julie Cook 2013)

This time of year always seems to usher in a bit of wistful nostalgia. Not only does the calendar alert us that Christmas is nary upon us, we also happen to have a birthday in this house as my son is turning 25 later this week. As he was a scheduled Christmas baby, who decided to arrive a week early, this has always been his favorite time of year and holiday. Happily or sadly, I fear, I must confess that each and every year as the calendar rolls around to this particular week, I cannot help but feel as if a part of me is somewhat frozen in time as I, ever so sweetly, recall those years which now seem so long ago. . . when he was simply a little boy.

Once upon a time a trip to McDonalds and a Happy Meal was a magical event. Spending time watching his favorite cartoons, be it Spiderman, Batman or the Ninja Turtles, was some of the best time I recall spending during that delightful time of innocence oh so long ago—as he and I would sit together on the couch or floor mesmerized by the long serving super heroes of what seems to have been each or our childhoods (sans those turtles for my youth).

With his dad always working and our living in a different community from the one we worked in and attended school, and with his being an only child, there was a great deal of time, for better or worse, spent together. Today he may look back and think he was a lonely child or somewhat sheltered, I look back seeing the time as simply what our world was, and relish the memory of the close bound the 3 of us shared.

The crisis of a child, which at the time can seem monumental, was most always easily fixed by some extra attention, hugs, favorite meals or a trip for ice-cream. Sadly I must admit that those crises which occur today are not nearly as easily remedied or alleviated. What I thought broke my heart for him when he was 5, truly breaks my heart now in the shadow of 25. At this grown up age, in my parental frustrations, as well as sorrowful regret, no longer do I know how to readily fix things. Such is the burden, I fear, of mothers world wide. All of this as I am reminded of another mother, long ago, who eventually bore the weight of the world as she held her newborn son under the light of a single star.

And so it is with such thoughts, which rise to the surface from this mother’s constantly wounded heart, when gazing upon a frozen bird bath in the throws of a winter morning. Thankfully, however, I am sustained by the knowledge of the eventual thawing and giving way to , once again, free flowing streams of water–as the thaw gives way to free waters, so too does it give way to the hope of soothed hearts, mended dreams, and bright futures.

‘Stop your crying and wipe away your tears.
All that you have done for your children will not go unrewarded.
They will return from the enemy’s land.
There is hope for your future.
Your children will come back home.
I, the Lord, have spoken’.

Jeremiah 31: 16-17
Good News Bible

A season of texture and tones

The true worth of a man is not to be found in man himself, but in the colours and textures that come alive in others.”
Albert Schweitzer

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(Pinecones from Dad’s yard, along with a fungus covered dead branch, Julie Cook 2013)

With the rapidly approaching official arrival of winter we are, no doubt, beginning to feel as if we are spiraling into a type of color withdrawal. Gone are the beautiful scarlets, golds and burnt oranges of Autumn; gone are the golden swaying wheat fields and the intoxicatingly beautiful jasmine and honeysuckle of Summer; gone are the vibrant explosives reds, blues, greens and lavenders, of Spring. For in this deep slumbering shadow of the calendar, we are left with an empty void of nothingness, or for some, a giant blanket of white encasing every living and non-living thing as far as the eye can see.

Yet in this perceived void of lacking and emptiness, there remains a very important component to our field of vision, for suddenly open for the entire world to view, the earth lies naked before both creature and man— exposed, unprotected and vulnerable. Gone are the colorful coverings of flowers and leaves which act as accessorizing baubles and wrappings. Gone are the tall grasses and heavy ladened branches bearing fruit and flower. What remains is an intricately woven skeletal system, the undercarriage of our natural world.

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Cautiously, and a bit weary, we peer out upon this barren landscape, sad and forlorn, fearing that we are doomed to grey gloomy skies, long dark nights and a lack of visual stimulation. But thankfully a slow hesitant joy begins to claim our mood, for upon closer inspection we realize that we are not the helpless victims of Loss and Void, but rather we discover that we have been granted a tiny treasured lagniappe, a treat for all of our senses, for spread out majestically before us is a different type of visual splendor—one which appears more delicate and almost fragile than what had departed–for here, in what we now find at our grasp, is beauty in its most basic simplicity.

Branches, limbs, sticks, stones, straw, bark, cones and moss—these are the bare essentials which Nature generously offers to our visually weary senses. Wonderfully we rejoice for we now know that we have not been flung out helplessly to fester in a world of monotones and dull eyed death. Here in this seemingly cold and barren world– beauty is to be had, to be seen and to be touched. The visual wonders still abound.

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These visual treasures are not the garish over the top harlots of those previous seasons, but rather these beauties remain understated, subtle and quiet. They speak of structure, shape, texture and tone offering us a tactile reminder that our visual needs have not been forgotten. Old man Winter may be hard and harsh, but he is not unkind. As you fight the deep calling to venture outside to a world of cold wind, freezing rain and gloomy grays, do not be discouraged—Nature knows your need and she has provided.

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Oh to be a child again

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

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(antique Santa figurine / Julie Cook / 2013)

There is a joyful magic, which sweeps in on the cold winds of late December, bringing to those of us lucky enough to be in its path, a respite from reality, albeit fleeting, full of wonder and awe. Children, with their innocence and almost reverent joy for the mysteries hidden, invoke a contagious mass amazement which spreads the ripples of excitement to the most jaded among us. Young, and now old, all seem to gather in anticipation of something most tantilizingly special.

Memories of happier times come rushing to the forefront of our adult minds with each inhaled scent of freshly baked cookies, roasted marshmallows, cinnamon sticks and peppermint candy canes. The laughter of children building snowmen, the angelic sound of choirs singing, the ringing of a single bell, and the dizzying din of the masses flooding the malls and stores each provide a bit of giddy excitement in even the most hardened of hearts.

The special magic which this time of year seems to create is enjoyed and savored by not only believers but by those of all faiths as well as non believers alike. Perhaps that is the true gift of this most treasured time—those who believe reawaken their vigilant search, looking for the ever present star as a continued sign that a King and Savior of all mankind, is once again re-born—As for those who do not believe, their hearts are made equally as light as the mystery and magic of what Christmas is all about, and has been about around this globe for centuries, is once again bathed in the radiant light of magical moments, anticipation in what can be, and the hopefulness that is once again ignited for all mankind.

My hopeful blessing to you all during this most special time of year is for Peace and Goodwill to all men, woman and children. Merry Christmas.

The difference between us and the trees is not just the nuts.

“And then Jonah heard God’s voice.
“Jonah, do you know what the difference is between you and the trees?”
He was confident it was God because God usually asked questions but gave no answers. Jonah didn’t need a divine answer to this question, he knew it.
“Yes,” he said. “The difference between me and the trees is that the trees let go of their leaves. I keep holding onto mine. The trees make room for new life. I don’t.”

― David W. Jones, Going Nuts!

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I absolutely love this little quote. I found it while looking around for a new insightful but lighthearted new read—this time of year, my mind oddly turns to mush with the body merely waiting to follow suit. Which just might have something to do with the endless jaunts to this store and of the endless searches for a parking space that is within a mile of the door to the store—even parking at the grocery store seems to be along the lines of Mission Impossible. Let’s not discuss traffic shall we, as it seems to only intensify during this time of year–the roads full of panicy idiotic shoppers. There just seems to be a heightened sense of anxiety out on the streets.

Madness is all about this time of year as people seem to have lost all sense and sensibility. Why is it that we spend almost a year’s salary in all of about 2 weeks–buying “gifts” for everyone we seem to know, doubting our original choices, only to dash out again, adding to the burgeoning sacks of the “perfect” gifts squirreled away as they await the ceremonial wrapping? And why is it that we spend hours (mothers and sales folks) laboriously encasing said gifts in yards and yards of colorful papers, struggling with ribbons, tape and bows just to have that artistic hard work torn off in mere seconds—why is that?

Why is it that we will get out of our car, in the middle of the mall’s parking lot, in order to drag the driver of an opposing car out by their collar, in order to beat them silly as they dared to “take” the parking spot we had been eyeing for the past 40 minutes as we circled the parking lot like a buzzard?! Why is it that just as we reach for the perfect size of the perfect sweater, which is the only one left on the hanger in that perfect size and color, it is suddenly pulled away by a little old lady who shoots a look as if to say “I’ll beat the crap out of you if you don’t let go”—

The madness has even filtered here to the bastion of civility, my house, my home. As I was making my 15th trip from the attic last weekend, carrying musty treasure box upon box, ladened with the Christmases of ages past, I ask out loud, for no one in particular to hear but me, “Are we having fun yet?”
I answered.
What is it they say about talking to one’s self??!!
It’s ok until you start to answer. . . hummmmmm. . . .trouble may be brewing. . . and by the way, “NO” was the answer.

Five of the dearest people in my life have birthdays within the next week, with the last one falling actually on Christmas day itself—My son, his fiancé (what are those odds?!), my godmother, my godfather and my stepmother. So not only will I be buying the perfect Christmas gifts, I will be buying the perfect Birthday gifts as I prepare 3 perfect birthday meals complete with 3 perfect individual cakes.

But what type of cakes. . .hummm. . . Rum cake sounds fun—might as well make something “medicinal”—a little for me, a little for the cake, a little more for me a little less for the cake—wasn’t this a full bottle of rum? Suddenly the room is spinning. . . maybe chocolate will be a safer bet.

I’ve always been bad to put pressure on myself to make things “magical” for those I love while, in the process, killing myself. Last year I thought it would be so magically special to order our son some little Austrian doozie of a cake–the picture just looked so pretty.
“Didn’t you like your cake, you hardly touched it?”
“Mother, you know I just like your cakes, this one is way too rich”
Oh well. . .so much for special and perfect.
Why is it that I feel the need to make each occasion so very special I wonder? I realize I don’t delegate, I never have been very good at that. I tend to hold on to the whole kit and kaboodle—only to wonder why it is that what I’ve done is simply nothing like the picture of perfectness as seen in the image of the magazine or book—and lets not talk about things like Pintrest that has all the younger generation attempting their hands at magical. . .

Maybe I need to blame the Diva of Domestic Goddess Bliss. Miss Perfect of the house and home. Her magazines, television shows, her guest appearances on the morning news shows—she’s everywhere, along with her perfect self and perfectly beautiful condescending smile. Her coif perfectly stationary as she shovels the sh*# from the stalls of her thoroughbred stallions, while wearing her $500 Le Chameau muck lucks and beautiful name brand barn jacket and jodhpurs making even the shoveling of the s#*t appear to be a fine and manageable art (you are now hearing the heavy sigh of resignation). . .

As we now enter the long shadows of yet another year, may we all remember the true reason for our madness ( I do think love is really hidden in there somewhere)— May we lay the stress and the odd need to be able to “do it all and to do it all right now for everyone” down at the base of the tree, the makeshift altar of a season that has unfortunately spun out of control. May we learn what the trees seem to know better than we do, that the letting go of the old, in order to make way for the new, is sometimes more important than holding on to things and traditions merely for the sake of “because it’s always been done like that.” Change can be good and new traditions can be just as special as those long entrenched memories.

Those beautiful autumn colored leaves eventually turn brown, sadly falling away from the trees. . . but come Spring. . .the tender new bright green shoots are such a welcomed delight. Some things must “go” in order to make way for the new—despite our stubborn clinging and holding onto–children grow up and lives change—it’s not the perfection that everyone will remember but rather, it is simply the magic of being together–the laughter, the hugs, the conversations, the smiles on the faces as contentment creeps in from just the mere fact that we are together again. . .

May you all enjoy spending time, over the next couple of weeks, with those in your lives who matter the most to you. Forget the perfection of cleaned houses, beautifully wrapped gifts and magazine worthy food, just enjoy the moments of love and fellowship of your family and friends. Happy Holidays. . .now where is that recipe for that rum cake. . .

“Deep roots are not reached by the frost”

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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(image of a frost covered little patch of clover / Julie Cook / 2013)