The straight and narrow

I know the path: it is straight and narrow. it is like the edge of a sword. I rejoice to walk on it. I weep when I slip. God’s word is: “He who strives never perishes.” I have implicit faith in that promise. Though, therefore, from my weakness I fail a thousand times, I shall not lose faith —Mahatma Gandhi

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(interior shot of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

My life has woven a path often wide, at times directly straight, yet more curvy than not.
It has been laid out before me and I have often consciously chosen to ignore strategically placed mile markers.
Directions have been carefully plotted yet sadly, regrettably, purposefully ignored, as Self thought it knew best.

Easy is wide and many may join as the path has often been not my own.
Sometimes following, occasionally leading, Self and I have walked hand in hand.

Steep and rocky with views far and wide the path has lead me along jagged coastline as well as peaceful wooded glen, all the while as I travel forward, onward and upward.

On the occasion when I find myself in a familiar area, realizing that walking in circles has been my lot, bearings must be quickly taken while corrections are too often begrudgingly made.

And travel on I go, as Self constantly chatters “follow me, I know the way.”

As this life path continues on, the path more narrow does become–as congestion and jockeying for position is the constant battle. Quiet and solitude now replaced with noise of the masses, all seemingly traveling in my same direction.

Is this now how I know I am on the right path, as the myriad of travelers push and shuffle as one, carrying me along on their endless wave of self propulsion. Self has decided that to follow is the easiest way. Touting that the old adage is true, safety seems to lie in numbers.
Yet there is one I see who veers off in a different direction.
A few straggle behind him.
Over his shoulder he speaks to those who have chosen to follow on his journey–proclaiming that he knows the way Home.

Ahh home.

Has that what this journey has been all about. . .traveling far and wide, eventually making our way back home?
But why are the masses traveling along a different path?
Where do they think they go?
Their way does seem brighter, more alluring, as they mindlessly race toward a precipice no one seems to notice in the distance ahead.

All the while the lone traveler continues offering to any who linger behind a new and different path. He does not promise that it will be an easy journey, as darkness will descend from time to time, but He offers up his lantern as the beacon pointing Home.

This as I stand at the fork.
Self pulling me to follow after the masses. “There are more of them, they must know what they are doing” Self continues with the constant protest. Yet the lone traveler, who has now slowed up for me to come his way, seems to exude a calm and peace about his choice. . .his openness and confidence of his particular path of choice seems to reverberate from somewhere along the way.

I stand looking back and forth, as the sun slowly fades from the evening sky. Self takes off, following the others as I alone step forward along the path of the lone traveler. Come, he offers, my way is narrow but the reward is great.

And travel on I go, now hand in hand with this lone traveler, anxious to finally head for Home.

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:14

What beautiful brown eyes you have. . .

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
― A.A. Milne

“Once again…welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”
― Bram Stoker

“You know, sometimes the world seems like a pretty mean place.’
‘That’s why animals are so soft and huggy.”

― Bill Watterson

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(images of a little wild rabbit / Julie Cook / 2014)

Imagine my surprise this morning when I noticed both cats poised, like dogs pointing out the prey, deadly still with heads careening out as far as little necks would allow through the posts on the deck, looking intently down to the bank below. “What on earth do they see” I wonder as I edge my way to the railing for a good look.

Quickly, and almost invisible to discernment, there is rapid movement against a sea of pine straw as I suddenly focus on the object of their attention.
A small brown rabbit, a PeterCotton Tail to be exact.

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“Oh welcome my little guest” as I feel my heart rise up within me. Yet the obvious thought, the most logical thought, by any Gardner or farmer would not be too welcoming having a wee rabbit to come calling. And what am I thinking. . .as my garden is no more than 100 feet away—wide open, bare and exposed. . .full of delectable tender green vegetables to be.

This, as I recall the charge of St. Benedict on hospitality–that we are to make all those who come to our home, welcome. I somehow think St Benedict would kindly consider this lowly little rabbit a most welcomed guest of honor.

Yet there is truly something about rabbits which has always captured my heart.
Maybe it’s their big soulful saucer sized eyes. . .
Perhaps it was the pet rabbit we had when our son was a little boy. BunBun.

BunBun was a beautiful black and white lop eared rabbit with a tender gentle disposition. He, she, it, was more like a big flop doll, quite happy wearing a harness and leash as we would enjoy taking him out of his cage, playing with him in the grass.

My husband had had a beautiful rabbit hutch built for our new family addition–large, spacious and secure. . .or so we had thought.
One tragic afternoon, before my son and I had returned home from a long day of teaching for me and day care for him– my husband who had came home prior to our arrival was witness to a horrible sight. A pack of dogs, not even wild dogs but a pack of roaming neighborhood dogs, attacking the cage and rabbit. They must have worked on it for some time as the cage itself was sound and quite sturdy.

My husband came upon the tail end of the carnage, chasing away the dogs and burying BunBun before my son and I got home. He called one of the dog owners explaining what had happened and that he had a great concern as our son often played outside and if this pack of dogs were so aggressive over a small caged animal what might they do to our toddler son. The owners response was most odd–“the next time you see my dogs, just shoot them.”

There’s certainly another post in there somewhere but today I want to remain more upbeat and enjoy my little surprise guest.

I don’t know what it is about rabbits—partly yes to those soulful eyes of theirs, plus their soft cuddly-like bodies, their luxurious coats–ode to the angora—or perhaps their gentle peaceful nature. I remember asking our vet it I’d need to have the rabbit vaccinated for rabies. He jokingly replied “you’d first have to have a brain to get rabies”—I took that as a no.

When I wrote my tale a couple of months back about my childhood companion, my stuffed Cubby bear,”Once you are REAL, you can’t be ugly” or The life of the little stuffed bear” I had had the story of the Velveteen Rabbit in mind. The delightfully heart tugging tale of the stuffed animal that was loved so very much that it became terribly worn and yet very much Real.

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Maybe rabbits are a bit like us. They tend to be communal creatures at times, living in groups known as warrens. They certainly mate and have children. . .and children, and children, and more children—ooo digressing
They eat their vegetables.

Yet they are not up there on the ol food chain by any stretch of the imagination.
As I sat watching my little visitor hopping about our yard, I worried over his vulnerability.
Our yard, as I’ve noted before, is more like a 5 acre pasture that just happens to have a house on it. A few oak trees but mostly wide open grassland. Not the best spot for an unsuspecting rabbit who may not know of the danger from the overhead hawks. And then there is the 6 acres of overgrown field which backs up to our property, then the vast woods beyond that—all fertile ground for predators–coyotes abound in our area as do bobcats, fox, snakes, and of course an occasional roaming dog or cat.

But it was another rabbit story which came to mind as I watched my little friend scoot about our yard.
Watership Down

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Watership Down is story that was written in the early 1970’s by English author Richard Adams.
The tale is of a group of rabbits, living together in a warren–their community.
They have a language, a “religion” of sorts, a history as a, uh, people.
One rabbit receives mystical visions.
Visions of death and destruction.
It is a tale of life, transition, death, relocating, but most importantly it is a tale about a journey, hope and faith.

Many have thought Adams’ tale went much further and deeper than that of a child’s story book.
Some thought there to be great religious and political overtones, or perhaps it was an allegory for Virgil’s tale of the Aeneid or Homer’s Odyssey— yet Adams has always denied such.

When our son was little, I wanted very much to read him the story as I had enjoyed it myself.
Each night before our son was to go to sleep, he and I would read together. Or actually I’d read, and he’d lay there intently listening. He’d have taken his bath, donned his pjs, always hunkering down under the covers, as I’d start the evening ritual of reading. His favorite stories being Polar Express, Robin Hood, James and the Giant Peach, and Dinotopia.Being an only child, his imagination was most keen.
He’d listen to whatever tale we’d be wading our way through, staring at the glow in the dark star stickers covering the bunk bed over his head–with the wheels of imagination churning.

Yet there was something about Watership Down that troubled my son. Maybe it was the rabbits as he imagined them with their homes and lives coming under a cloud of great peril, maybe it was the disturbing images from the visions the main character rabbit would see within his mind or maybe it was how vicious some of the rabbits could be to one another— no matter what the reasoning, he asked that we no longer continue the story. When I thought that maybe he’d enjoy seeing the video of the movie instead of hearing the story, he’d have none of it.

To this day, at the ripe old age of 25, if he ever sees or hears of the story, he immediately turns up his nose.
I don’t know if it had anything to do with our own rabbit tale, or that we as humans have that odd habit of personification..casting humanness on any and all things which exist in our realm or our desire to anthropomorphize animals–making them most human–possessing thoughts, hopes, joys, dreams, and woes just a real as our very own.

And I suppose that’s what we’ve all done at some point in our young lives with those stuffed animals of our childhood—we loved them until they become most real in our hearts. How many of us as grown ups, who, upon rummaging through attics and basements or the far recesses of long abandoned closets, coming across that now boxed up and most worn stuffed animal from our youths, are not overcome with a sudden wave of nostalgia? Pulling our long forgotten friend close to our face, smelling that oh so familiar scent of all that was of an encompassing world of security, love and acceptance?

As thoughts of PeterCotton Tail, the Velveteen rabbit and time past with a now grown child raced through though my mind, my small visitor made himself quite at home in the yard.
I suppose St Benedict is correct, welcome those who come calling, you never know what gifts their visits may bestow upon one’s memory and heart.

A thousand tiny stars blossom in the garden

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars. . .”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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(the tiny white buds of a blossoming nandina /Julie Cook / 2014)

I have several varieties of Nandina in our yard, in part because these shrubs are super low maintenance. Nandinas are considered evergreen to semi evergreen plants–depending on the exposure to cold. The shrubs may or may not lose a great deal of leaves in the colder times of the year. The plants produce large clusters of bright red berries which bring a wonderful pop of color to a very dreary winter landscape–plus the berries are a boon to hungry birds who struggle in the frozen winter months scavenging for food.

The Nandina plant is native to Japan, China and India where they are known for bringing luck to any home who has the shrub planted near a home’s entryway. The plants are also known by the name of “heavenly bamboo” as they resemble the growing pattern of bamboo’s woody like upward reaching shoots known as canes.

They offer up volunteers, or new plants, which will sprout up near an existing bush. The new little plants can be dug up and transplanted elsewhere with great success. I’ve even had success pruning the taller plants into a more tree like appearance in which they grow upwards to 8 feet, which is perfect for a spot in the area near a corner of the house which needs some height without the perils which can come from planting a larger growing tree too closely to one’s house–no invasive root system and not limbs crashing down during storms.

The foliage is often used in winter decorations due to the prolific red berries and burgundy tinged green leaves which, in some species, turn a lovely crimson in the fall and winter months. The dwarf varieties, of which the Fire Bush (due to the fiery Fall red foliage) is a common variety, make for a wonderful low growing ground cover shrub.

I could use one of those right about now. . .

Show me how you drink and I will tell you who you are.
~Emile Peynaud

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(a beautiful photo of a Cookie’s Cup / Julie Cook / 2014)

Ok, the official count down is underway!
Wedding Alert!!
June 7th!!!!!!!
Lots of “To Do’s” are crossed off the hefty list—yet oddly, as quickly as I check off one “To Do” item, seems as if 5 more are added. Hummmm

And money–let’s just not talk about that. . .
Still praying to grab hold of a Leprechaun cause robbing a bank is just not in my DNA.

By this time next week, I’ll be taking this show on the road . . .but before I can head towards the
Historic Georgia Coast, there are many miles to go here before there’s any thought of sleeping, resting or anything leisure.

And did you know that Springtime in Georgia lasts all of two weeks?
What does that have to do with wedding preparations you ask. . .
Well, it makes for hot work, and since the wedding is further south, an even hotter event.

Just about two weeks, sometime between late March, early April is when we have Spring.
After that little lull known as Spring, when our entire world turns yellow, look out, ’cause it’s full throttle Summer from here on out—as in sometime toward late October even possibly November!!
Summer is more like half the year here in Georgia.
If you like mid 90’s or better, and if you love not being able to breathe the air because the humidity is so thick you could wear it—then I’ve got a place for you!!

Heat, humidity and hazy days (the weather men call it hazy, I call it pollution but I digress)—that’s Georgia!!

So on those days that my nerves need soothing and my body needs refreshing, there is nothing better
than a “Cookie’s Cup.”
“A what?” you ask. . .
A Cookie’s Cup. . .as in my take on the quintessentially British summer cocktail cooler, The Pimm’s Cup.

If you’d like to try your hand at a Cookie’s cup, here’s what you’ll need:
–one bottle of Pimm’s No. 1 (a gin based, essentially British, herbal liqueur)
–One cucumber
“WHAT?!”
trust me. . .
–some strawberries
–crushed ice
–some Gin (I’m excited about Hendricks Gin these days–made in Scotland–a small batch gin, sleeper beverage coming in under the radar, below that infamous smoked peat beverage the Scots seems to love so much–who wants to drink smoked peat bogs??!! I digress)
–either some ginger ale, lime aid or some other lemon / lime flavored drink

–slice and seed a cucumber, or better yet, use a seedless one– then cut into sliced rounds or seeded chunks—I used about 6 little chunks (it’s a British thing, they put them in the original Pimm’s Cup, the big Wimbledon cocktail–and since the Hendricks gin uses cucumbers in their distilling, I figure it kind of all goes hand in hand)
–slice one to two large strawberries (they just look so pretty floating in a crystal glass don’t you think?)
–fill a pretty glass half way with crushed ice
–add the cucumber and strawberries
–add 1.5 oz of Pimm’s
–add 1 oz of Gin (if it’s been a really bad day, throw in an extra once of Gin for good measure)
–top off with lime aid or ginger ale
–Garnish with a mint sprig or slice of lime.

It’s not a sweet sort of drink but very quaffable–a light and easy aperitif. But if you need to sweeten it up a tad–add about a Tbl or two of simple syrup or Agave nectar— but remember the Agave is sweeter than sugar so you don’t need to use as much. The British love to make pitchers of Pimm’s, which in a pretty glass pitcher, can look most inviting. This is light, not a heavy alcoholic drink–and if you wanted it even lighter on the alcoholic side, you could do away with adding the Gin and stick primarily with the Pimm’s.

This is a nice sipping beverage on a hot afternoon when you’ve just looked at your check book and suddenly find yourself thinking of how you could do a better job of robbing a bank than the crooks you see on the evening news—
Bottoms up my friends. . .

A very tenacious, sensuous and most southern vine–or–the final page to the story

“…how sweetly smells the honeysuckle in the hush’d night…”
-Tennyson
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(wild honeysuckle on an old fence post / Julie Cook / 2014)

The humidity was so heavy and the air so thick, no one dared moved for fear of suffocating.
The beads of sweat, growing larger across her brow eventually grew too heavy–giving way as if a dam had burst, trickling rapidly down past her rounded cheek, even more quickly down her supple neck and sensuously disappearing down her silky blouse.

“What on earth is that oh so heavenly scent?
The question directed at no one in particular as the now shadowed figure stepped out onto the ancient front porch through that same torn screen porch door her daddy had always sworn he’d get around to fixing.
“Oh that’s mama’s honeysuckle vine on the trellis over by the side fence” she replied in a slow drawn-out honey coated drawl that he could suddenly not place.
Was it Savannah? Maybe Charleston? Better yet, maybe Natchez.

She could smell something other than the honeysuckle. “Nothing like a freshly showered man” she silently mused.
A mix of soap and saving cream hung heavily between them.
Despite the recent shower, the stiffly starched clean white oxford cloth shirt stuck to his back.
He handed her a glass.

The glass was one of her daddy’s Waterford crystal old fashioned glasses, the one from the makeshift bar in the front room he had christened his office away from the office. More like a big boy’s secret club house– as mama use to flippantly tell the kids about daddy’s time in “the office.”

The cold heavy glass, feeling instantly familiar and refreshing to the touch, was also full of her daddy’s favorite bourbon. When she was a little girl, asking for a sip of her daddy’s drinks, he’d simply whisper he was having a drink of a secret medicine. With the ice rapidly melting, she thankfully raised the sharp edged glass to her thin dry lips. One sip and she immediately felt the warm brown liquid erasing any remaining tension from the weight of the worries of the day. A silent “thank you Daddy for the medicine” wove itself into her thoughts.

As the cicadas gently hummed throughout the moonless night, he pulled over one of the other rockers asking if he could join her.
“Whenever did you have to ask to sit down” she quizzically quipped.
He couldn’t tell if she was playing or was actually annoyed.
It had been a dreadfully long day and he knew how heavy her heart had to be.

“Ever since you decided to spend the evening in the dark on this front porch” came his reply, attempting to sound more matter of fact rather than accusatory.

Suddenly he felt a warm hand reaching through the thick air landing gingerly upon his knee.
“It’s been a long day and a long life” she exhaled as she spoke in that breathless way she did when she fought from crying.
The years suddenly draining from her body as he placed his much cooler hand over hers.

Maybe it was the bourbon, maybe it was sitting on the terribly familiar porch, maybe it was the deeply southern humid evening–but whatever it was. . .she had finally sensed that she was going to be ok—-maybe it was because she had finally understood that she was just as stubborn, just as sensuous and just as tenacious as that damned ol honeysuckle vine her mama had planted 45 years ago, the one her daddy cussed every summer as he’d get stung by the visiting bees when she’d make him go prune the blasted thing.

Decoration Day

“Millions of tongues record thee, and anew
“Their children’s lips shall echo them, and say –
“‘Here, where the sword united nations drew,
Our countrymen were warring on that day!’
And this is much, and all which will not pass away.”

Lord George Gordon Byron

And now the old lion with her lion cubs at her side stands alone against the hunters who are armed with deadly weapons and impelled by desperate and destructive rage…..
The stars in their courses proclaim the deliverance of mankind. Not so easily shall the onward progress of the peoples be barred. Not so easily will the lights of freedom die.

Sir Winston Churchill

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(commemorative medal, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee / Julie Cook / 2014)

Decoration Day
Memorial Day
VE Day
Armistice Day
Remembrance Day
Veterans Day

Be it May 8, 1945,
May Bank Day,
November 11th of any given year,
the last Sunday in May,
or even
the 4th day of July. . .

Be it commemorating the lives lost during the War Between the States–which was the impetus for Decoration Day, now more commonly known as Memorial Day—
to those lives lost during any military conflict. . .

Be it here in the United States or throughout Great Britain, our most constant ally,
these days for the somber remembrance and reflection on the cost and price for the freedom we enjoy to this day must never be allowed to wane or be forgotten.

Sadly these days are slowly being allowed to morph into other things. . . VE Day (Victory in Europe, the official end of WWII in Europe) has become an official bank holiday.
Decoration Day, which was originally a day to mark and decorate the graves of those lost during the Civil war, was renamed to Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is now synonymous with the official start to summer, trips to the beach, furniture sales, department store sales, car sales and the ubiquitous cookout. . .

The same can be sadly said for Veterans Day, Armistice Day (the day celebrated in Europe marking the end of WWI, which coincides with our Veterans Day) and even our 4th of July.
Days originally meant to pay tribute to the lives lost during military conflict as well as a day to acknowledge and pay tribute to the continued contributions made for our safety and freedom by our armed forces.

The quote today by Lord Byron was written in 1815 commemorating the allies victory at the battle of Waterloo. Churchill, addressing the House of Commons in 1942, when after a myriad of defeats and woe-some lost battles could finally speak of small victories. Ever hopeful that the tide would finally be turning for his isolated and bombarded Island nation, Churchill found Byron’s poem most fitting.

This came following what Churchill dubbed the victory of the Battle of Egypt –El Alamein. It should be noted that the late M. Venizelos, a prominent contemporary Greek leader, had once observed that “in all her wars England / Great Britain — always wins one battle — the last.”
I am certain that this observation was a keen thought in the back of Churchill’s mind–would his beloved Island nation come through once again.

The reasons for Memorial Day, Veterans Day, VE Day or any other day of remembrance is just that–for remembrance–For the remembrance of the myriad of lives, mostly young lives, lost fighting and defending the simple principle of freedom for both you and I. These are days to honor lives lost as well as for the lives which still stand ready to ensure that our lives remain forever and constantly free and safe.

Treasure hidden among the weeds

“With the exercise of a little care, the nettle could be made useful; it is neglected and it becomes hurtful. It is exterminated. How many men resemble the nettle!” He added with a pause: “Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

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(a painted lady butterfly finding nourishment among the weeds / Julie Cook / 2014)

On this glorious Sunday, as you perhaps spend a warm sunny May day worshiping, enjoying family and friends, marking milestones of graduations and weddings or simply spending an afternoon serenely pondering and recalling the importance of why we mark this weekend as our Memorial Day celebration, I wish that you may happily find yourself stumbling upon any and all tiny treasures hidden among the weeds.

May you take time to notice the minute. May you relish and marvel in what is around you. May you offer thanksgiving for the peace, beauty, family, friends–for the time spent freely and lazily and for bright futures ahead and for whatever those futures may bring.

May we all be mindful that there are really no such things as weeds nor bad men, but that we, humankind, may not always be doing the very best job possible at cultivating all that is around us. . .as we don’t often take the time.
Today may we all make a conscious decision to begin cultivating, with love and care, all that is around us—for the reaped reward will certainly be great.

Sow righteousness for yourselves,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
and showers his righteousness on you.

Hosea 10:12