life and death never cease to amaze me…

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood
becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

C.S. Lewis

“I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die.
The world will keep on turning without me, I can’t do anything to change events anyway.”

Anne Frank


(dried hydranga blooms / Julie Cook / 2018)

I had a couple of posts that I had been working on that were waiting in the wings.
Posts I was all geared up to finish writing and excited about sharing today.

I had just watched the latest offering by Bishop Ashenden–of which makes for excellent sharing…
And of course, there’s our friend the Wee Flea…and his latest observations…
of which it seems, often needs to be our own observations…as he is always spot on.

Then there’s the story of the animal folks out there and stories of the types of animals that
they’re trying to pass off as “service animals” as they try their darndest to get these
service creatures on planes.
It actually makes for a humorous, ridiculous and rather captivating tale that is now sadly
an indication as to the nuttiness of our society…

And of course, there is the on again off again notion of the Russians coming, going
and not coming or going…

I mean just open any newspaper or click on any news feed or watch ‘the news’—
and the supply of material for the offering of reflection is endless…

Or maybe it is simply a sign that we need to be more earnest with our prayers…as in
never ceasing….of which I believe is actually the case…never ceasing.

But as luck would have it today,
both life and death decided they each needed to intervene in my life.

If I haven’t mentioned it lately, we are officially in baby watch mode.
This first granddaughter of ours is due any day now.
There are however a few glitches that have popped up…but the doctors are assuring us that
we are not to be worrying…for what we see as a glitch, they see as nothing new.

And so as we now hold our breath as we prepare for a new life…today,
which is yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday, is/was Aunt Maaaatthhhaaaa’s birthday.
She would have been 79.
Remember we lost Martha suddenly and unexpectedly in July.

And so whereas she and I had already had an adventure planned which we should have
lived out this past fall,
as I should have been sharing the tales of our latest exploits…
rather than exploits, I am offering the bittersweet remembrance of her passing.

And to add insult to injury…this morning, which is yesterday morning to you,
just as I was thinking about how much I was missing my aunt,
this accomplice in all things of adventure…
her daughter–that being my cousin….well her fiancee called me, totally out of the blue,
to inform me that she, my cousin, had actually died suddenly while out walking the dog.
On her mom’s birthday.
She was just 48.

She had had a nagging cough and had been tested for the flu but they were treating it as
chronic asthma. I think they are suspecting blood clots in the lungs but I also suspect
that as was very much overweight, I think her heart simply gave out.
She leaves behind a 26-year-old daughter who struggles with autism and a totally shocked
and bereft fiancee who had just proposed on New Year’s Eve.

Both my mother and her sister, Aunt Martha, clung to the old-school
wive’s tales and adamantly held to the notion that bad things always happened in threes…

I say this family has had its three.

And so now no one remains on my mother’s side of the family but for the daughter of
this cousin and me.

And so I am poignantly reminded that we human beings are a people who mark our
days by the significance of the calendar…the passing of time marked by events.
As there will always be ironies found in both our births and in our passings.

I was all ready to be heading off in one direction today when life saw that I should
head in a totally different sort of direction…one that is much more deeply reflective.
And just when I thought we couldn’t get any more reflective then perusing the thoughts of
Bishop Ashenden or the Wee Flea, David Roberston…life teaches us otherwise.

It seems that there will always be joy and sorrow constantly rolled into one another…
Some would call that a ying and yang of living or simply karma—the coming and going around
of the good and bad in the universe…

I simply call it life.

The ebb and flow of this gift we have been given.
Nothing on earth is a guarantee…all but for the love, God has for His children.

And whereas none of us know or are guaranteed another day, let alone another hour…
Knowing that our lives, as precarious and fragile as they are,
are at all times found safely in the hand of the Father, is comfort enough for me…
May it be comfort enough for you…

For despite the markings of the calendar, none of us know the day nor time
our earthly life will come to a close…I pray to be in the hands of the Father
when that day should come for me…

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
What is your life?
For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

James 4:14

a little more empty during a tough year…

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not;
and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


(The Very Rev. and Mrs David B. Collins–David and Virginia “Ginny” /
Julie N.Cook / 1981)

In this grainy old photo you see two people who were very much in love—

…and those two people were two individuals who I loved very much as well.

He had been a Naval Officer during WWII and she a staring actress in the original
production of Carousel on Broadway—and yet they somehow met, fell in love, married
and loved one another well into their 90’s….

And they had each loved me.

The year of the photograph was 1981 and it was taken during an evening
a group of us had met up at our favorite British Pub in Atlanta.
The Churchill Arms.
One could have walked into this pub and felt magically transported across the
proverbial pond to a different place and time.

I think both young and old in our group that night wished we were all in England–
during a different time.

Back then, back when I was young, at that pub on Thursday nights,
the Atlanta Bagpipes and Drums would hold court and practice.
There were the nightly dart competitions.
And on Friday and Saturday nights, a dear older lady would play the piano
as everyone would gather around to sing rousing renditions of Waltzing Matilda,
Keep the Home Fires Burning, Over There, etc….
all the while enjoying a pint of Whitbread, Guinness or New Castle….

Funny thing thinking about a bunch of late 70’s college kids singing Waltzing Matilda
and actually knowing not only the words but what the song was about and when it had actually been popular….

I think the pub is still there…where it was back in my youth…
But it’s now a modern trendy sort of place sans all the typical Anglophile
paraphernalia.
No longer does it harken back to a better place and time.
As it beckons to the cutting edge millennial…with it’s more otherworldly
bar atmosphere of the 21st century.

It was probably an odd place for a group of college kids to gather along with their
parish priest, the current Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St Philip…along
with this vicar’s wife…..but the church was no small parish,
he was no small church vicar and we were no average lot of kids.

There was very much a homey feel here, there was a fire place, lots of wood—
a place we, a bedraggled little extended “family,”
could all gather to enjoy one another’s company.
A place we could chat, catching everyone up on life at our various colleges and
hear what we had missed at Church.

The drinking age at the time was 18 so we were all good and by the time this
picture was taken, I was well into my early 20’s.

I’ve written about both of them before.
For various reasons…be it because of my adoption, my faith, my family, my life…
as they each had had a prominent role in my small corner of the world.

They each taught me a great deal about life, love, living, dying, fighting,
believing…. as well as lessons about Faith, God, hopefulness, healing and Grace.

They each saved me, more times than I care to recall, from myself.

They each knew of the failings and egregious actions of my life yet
loved me none the less.
As I certainly worked hard at testing that love many a time.

I am who I am to this day because of them.
Better because of who they were.

They actually laid hands upon my head, several times, as they prayed for healing.

Not for a physical healing but for a more profound and more important healing.
A deep spiritual healing.

He was adopted, just like I was.
We shared that—just as she shared us.
She knew the importance of deep healing.
And she knew how important such healing was for both of us and to our pasts—-
to the two people she loved.

They had 4 children of their own…
and then there was me—the surrogate 5th.
They claimed to be my Godparents…by proxy really…for when I was baptized
as an infant, our paths had not yet crossed.

The relationship was set in motion in 1966 when they first moved to Atlanta
in order for him to take the over the position of dean at the Nation’s largest
Episcopal Cathedral.

They are not my parents yet my own parents knew of the great importance and role
this couple played in my life…and where there was jealously there was also
a knowledge that the relationship was necessary for all of us….
Just as their children knew that they were sharing their parents with me
and yet they often spoke in terms of me being “the truly good child”.

Over time, I learned, as I grew and matured, that they needed me just as much
as I had needed them…
life has a way of teaching us such things.

The end of the year will mark a year since he’s been gone.
Her passing was on Tuesday….
And now they are Home, together.
This I know.

Yet that doesn’t make me less sad.
Doesn’t make me feel less lonely.
Doesn’t stop from reminding me that all my parents are now gone…
along with an aunt and uncle, a brother and cousin along with all grandparents.
That all are gone…but me.

Odd how that makes one feel.
Even at almost 60 years of age.
Good-byes are never easy.

There was a time when I could not have weathered this tremendous amount
of loss I’ve experienced this past year…
but I now have a deep knowledge and understanding of Grace.
I am saved by that Grace.
They taught me that…and then some…

indebted

“I don’t know who my grandfather was;
I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust


(the cousins circa 1966 )

Family.
A difficult and delightful hodge podge and conundrum all rolled into one.
For good or bad…we all have family….

Do you see the wee awkward one there, the little one in green sitting in the
middle on the couch in this grainy old family photograph?

That would be me.

Little did I realize then that the two cousins, brother and sister, sitting to my immediate right and left would eventually come to be two of the most important people
in my life.

The age difference is 5 and 8 years respectively.
Enough of a deep and wide chasm to keep the young cousin at, what was hoped to
be, a safe distance.
Being just that, I was the little cousin who was to be endured during holidays,
for what was hoped to be only for a day at best.

The only catch was the fact that the two girls were also just that—
the only two girls in a sea of boys with a doting grandmother who had raised
two boys yet always yearned for a girl.
Of which forced these two mismatched girls to spend more time together than either
one particularly cared.

So should it come as any surprise that the older of the two girls tried twice to do
away with the younger one?

How was the fact missed that when these two cousins were once visiting their
grandparent’s farm, deciding to go out for a ride on the horses,
the older one opted not to secure the younger one’s saddle, leaving her dangling precariously between a deep raven or a bed of overgrown brambles…
with the only choice of survival being the brambles….

Or what of the time the older one was told to prepare the younger one something
for supper…and so, what was dubbed a cannibal burger, was quickly served…
simply being a raw hamburger patty that perhaps was hoped served as a last meal….

The teenage boy you ask??
Well he simply had no time for any such foolishness, opting instead to spend
time his own way…away.

And little did any of us know that on that picture day so long ago that
two in the photo would leave us far too soon.

I lived in the family of the younger of the two brothers.

A quiet lazy man who called Atlanta home.
Ours was a small family of four.
The other and older brother lived with his young brood up north in a rural
city in the same state.

The distance often limited the times spent together as “family.”

The oldest cousin in the photo was soon to move states, off to college,
where he would eventually go on to medical school,
marrying and forging his life there, away,
as it is to this very day… so his presence now is of little consequence.

Add also to the photo the fact that two in the picture had been adopted…

And so it was with my having been one of the two adoptees.

Such was that I always had felt a deep void in my heart.
I always felt a disconnect from my cousins…
as if I really wasn’t related and therefore I was always an outsider,
not really related.

We all shared the same last name,
but at some point prior, I actually had had a different last name.
Different family traits, different everything.

Of course today my grown mind knows better and that such a thought never crossed
the minds of my cousins. Simply put, I was just the little cousin…
Yet in my mind I always felt separate from what made the family just that,
a blood bonded family.

As time passed all the cousins went their own separate directions…to school,
careers, marrying and forging lives of their own.
All except for the two youngest boys.

The youngest cousin there on the floor was only 3 years older than me.
We were very close growing up, as our ages dictated that we were the two
relegated to spend the most time together.

We were the best of friends, growing very close over the years as we each dealt
with our own varying family dysfunctions, that was until he was tragically killed
in a car wreck at the age of 23 while at age 20, I was left to pick up our pieces.

My little brother, the youngest of all the cousins would eventually commit suicide
as he could never reconcile himself to having been “given up” and then in
turn adopted…despite the fact that he was always loved and cherished within
this family.

There would always be the occasional wedding or funeral that would bring everyone
back together….
but time, age and distance had placed a divide in the family,
creating a group of strangers rather than bonded relatives.

My family of 4 eventually became a family of 3, then it was down to 2 and
this past March, it became only a family of 1.

Their family of 6 eventually became 5, resting now at an original 4.

But as theirs was the greater in number, it only made sense that their family’s
numbers would grow exponentially…
blossoming to the current total of 31 while mine is up to 4 with a
5th on the way.

But oddly and blessedly enough, time would be kind as it always has a way
of coming around full circle.
It has allowed for the bridging of the chasm of both age and distance…
in turn rendering all of the divides no longer relevant….delightfully
null and void.

Each cousin has lived through, as well as survived, their own life’s tumults…
And the realization and acknowledgement of such has provided a bonding effect.

Those two cousins who sat on either side of me all those many years ago,
along now with their spouses, swooped in to take my small brood of
a family under their care when it was most needed.
And when things became really difficult, they merely intensified their care.
And that care continues as I continue putting the pieces of loss back together again.

No longer was I just the little annoying cousin but I had become more
like the younger sister…
a sister who they each knew would need their love and support.

Family, as we most all know, is a complicated affair.
Never perfect, never what we hold in our minds.
However we are blessed when we realize that our adversities can actually provide
a unifying factor.

Despite having known these people my entire life, I don’t think
we actually got to truly know one another until we became adults.
And since neither of them read this blog I don’t think they’d mind
me telling you how very lucky I consider myself having been “stuck” in the
middle on that couch so very long ago…

Family, for good or bad, we usually all have one….
and how so appreciative I am that this adopted child was blessed by one
with such a tenacious zeal.


(both of my cousins with their mother, my aunt, my now 92 year old aunt,
almost 3.5 years ago in Savannah at my son’s wedding / Julie Cook / 2014)

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their
own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

The tale, part II

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”

― Emily Dickinson


(view from our room overlooking the busy horse carts on Mackinac Island /
Julie Cook/ 2017)

I wrote this part II post Tuesday, a day before my aunt lost her battle with
the reoccurring cancer.
I know she would insist that I run the post because the ending is so much better than
any of our losses….
and so it is…..

Picking up from where we left off yesterday….

Over our subdued lunch shadowed by my angst,
I called another very nice, but much smaller historic, hotel
located in town… and to our amazement, they had a room!
And if the truth be told…in the end we preferred this
second hotel much more than our stay at the more uppity larger hotel.

Thankfully our final two days of this trip were relatively incident free…
as finally, perhaps even thankfully, the time came for our return home…

What with the many
planes
cars
trains
boats
horses
and bikes…
we made our way back to the tiny little airport…
the one we had been so intimately acquainted with just
days prior.

The nice TSA lady told everyone gathered to make certain to take all food items,
especially Mackinac’s famous fudge, out of their carry-on luggage.
She instructed everyone to put all said fudge into separate bins
allowing it to pass through the screening machine
by itself.

Hummmmmm.

I scrambled pulling out sack after sack of fudge from my backpack.
Everyone back home had asked me to bring back some of this most well known
and most delectable treat.

Finally unburdened from all packed fudge poundage,
my husband and I proceeded to pass through the detectors.

The TSA man stops my husband, who can’t hear because he’d taken out his hearing aids,
and proceeds to tell my clueless husband that he is going to patted down…
my husband looks at me to interrupt.

TSA agents don’t like for you to work as a team…

I tried explaining to the TSA fellow that my husband wouldn’t be able to hear him…
this while another TSA agent grabs my backpack,
the one that had just exited the X-ray scanner,
and asks me to step over to a counter.

All the while my husband is being frisked.
This latest TSA agent places my bag on a counter behind a screen and
proceeds asking me, in a very serious sounding tone,
if there is anything sharp or dangerous in my bag.

“No.”

“I am going to empty the contents of your bag and I want you to keep your hands
where they are and do not reach over here for anything I pull out.”

“Ok.”

She proceeds to pull out my fig newtons, a few of the knick knack gifts
I’d picked up for my son and daughter-n-law,
my windbreaker, my book, my little bag of goldfish crackers,
my camera….
finally she pulls out a sack that had been buried on the very bottom of the pack.
One last box of fudge I had missed in my rush to empty out everything else.

The agent informs me that fudge takes on the properties of an explosive.

“Huh?”

She takes her little magic explosive wand, wiping down my fudge box as well as the
entire insides of my backpack….checking for explosive residue.

I’m sorry but I’m standing in the middle of a teeny tiny little midwestern
regional airport waiting to board a tiny connecting flight—
I look as American as Charlie Brown—a far cry from an evil radical terrorist…
and I have a ton of fudge—does that seem terroristic to you?

She proceeds to berate me for not paying attention,
for not listening to the prior screening request to empty out bags of
all candy.

“HELLOOOOOO, do you not see the sacks of fudge and taffy sitting in this bin that I obviously did empty…???!!!”

I proceeded to tell this agent, which perhaps I shouldn’t have,
that I was a teacher, and if anyone knows how to follow instructions
it was me…

Did she not pick up on that little fact by the ton of candy I had already
removed that was sitting outside of the bag..???!!!
Plus did it not occur to her that ‘I simply missed one last sack????

“Oh, and by the way, I don’t even like fudge!!!!!!”

Once on the plane and settled into our tiny little seats,
my husband exhales loudly. The restrained composure he bravely maintained
all week was now fading rapidly away….
He matter of factly states in a rather loud voice for all to hear,
that from now on…we will not be flying anywhere, ever again–
-we will be driving….

Fast forward to Monday as life resumed its monotony of routine.

I met my son at their home here in town in order to finish moving boxes and
begin the scrubbing process.
I asked why his wife hadn’t come down…again.
“She’s still sick” he replies.
“Still? What in the heck is wrong…I’ve told y’all to
hurry up and find a doctor and quit waiting till you’re near death…”
On and on I fuss, just like a fussy mother hen, I chide and ramble.

Suddenly I stop my fussing.

“Brenton,”
I slowly ask….
“is Abby pregnant?”

“Yes…..”

One word…

“yes”

and suddenly our little world is transformed into
something so much bigger, so much greater,
so much more than where we were right before
he said the single simple word
“yes.”

“We’ve been afraid to tell y’all what with everything that’s been happening.”
Almost apologetically he tells me they had not planned it to be this way.
We know the timing is poor…but…

and so now yes,
and now but…
and now life,
and now thankfully,
and now joyfully…
it happens…

everything that was,
everything that seemed so insurmountable,
everything that was such a big deal
so annoying
so troublesome
so stupid
so difficult….

as Dad’s former caregiver told me when I shared the news with her…
“in the black community we have a saying,
when one leaves the world,
another one enters”

and so it is…
and so it does….

For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

aunt maaathaaa

“The way you help heal the world is you
start with your own family.”

Mother Teresa


(look at that young Atlanta girl)

Spelled M – a – r – t – h – a
but it’s pronounced Maaaathaaa..
And yes, it’s a southern thing.

So I don’t think she’d mind my mentioning this….
but I think we might need to ramp up the prayers….again
As in calling on all you prayer warriors out there….

You may remember, my aunt.
My mother’s only, younger, sister and my only remaining link on that side of my family.
We have been family, partners in crime and grand adventurers since I could walk.
You may also remember that three years ago, out of the blue, Martha was diagnosed
with kidney cancer.

No problem said the doctors…just pop out that kidney and you’ll be good to go.

And so it was…the one kidney remaining was to step up to the plate,
becoming super kidney.
She barely missed a beat as major kidney surgery is now about as quick and easy
as a tooth extraction.
We were off to Ireland in less than a year.
Life was good.

That was until late last summer when a routine check revealed new spots on the
remaining super kidney, the pancreas and the liver.

No problem said the doctors…
you’ll take a pill everyday for the rest of your life and it’ll
keep the spots at bay.

So it was the first of January when she started the pill regime.

But the side effects seem to be more then what she was lead to understand.

Her energy level is now that of a weak newborn kitten.
Her appetite has been absolutely zero which is probably ok because her mouth
and tongue have become so utterly sensitive that she can’t tolerate anything going
in the mouth…so she’s now down 35 pounds—35 pounds she didn’t have to lose…

And now the last PET scan showed new spots—the type of spots she wasn’t suppose to get
because she’s taking the pills….

But not a problem says the doctors…
We’ll change up the pills….

But the mouth is still gravely unhappy, there is absolutely no desire to eat,
her hair is now white as snow, her energy level is non existent and
she is at a low low…

So I think its time we call on the prayer warriors…

And this is the confidence which we have in him,
that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask,
we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.

1 John 5:14-15

biopsies and updates

If I could give you information of my life,
it would be to show how a woman of very ordinary ability has been led by God
in strange and unaccustomed paths to do In His service what He has done in her.
And if I could tell you all, you would see how God has done all, and I nothing.

Florence Nightingale

dscn1477
(berries of the Chinese Mountain Ash along the grounds of Klyemore Abbey / Connemara, County Galway, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Update on Aunt “Mothaaa”, aka Martha, and the liver biopsy.

Well, the doctor called her in yesterday afternoon and the news was not encouraging…
but it was what had pretty much been expected.

In her words… “it’s not good”

“Unusual” is what the doctor had to say as he would not have guessed this
to have happened this far out from the original surgery and kidney removal
of three years ago…
but it is what it is.

The next step is a visit, the first of the week, to the oncologist to hear the game plan.

So now it is prayer time for a strategic game plan!

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

in need of prayers…again

dscn1189
(if you can’t tell, Martha is the one in the middle / Adare Manor County Limerick, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Three years ago I came here and asked you all for your prayers…
prayers for my aunt…
otherwise known as my partner in crime…
Or to most folks, it is simply Martha….

If you are from the South, that is pronounced Mothaaa
like a moth with a bunch of a’s tacked on.

Three years ago and very much out of the blue, doctors discovered a malignant mass
in my aunt’s left kidney. It all happened so very suddenly and quickly,
catching us all off guard.
The doctors immediately decided the kidney had to be removed and so naturally,
I did the only thing I knew to do,
I asked you for your prayers…

Prayers of good wishes,
healing,
surgical success
and for the continuation of healing and good health.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/martha-my-aunt-my-partner-in-crime-and-one-who-is-in-great-need-of-your-prayers/

Life has rocked along these past three years, since Martha had her kidney removed,
with nary a blip on her radar…
as all the scans and tests since that day have showed only a full and complete picture of health.
Three years allowing us to add to our numerous mis-ques and harrowing adventures.
With last year’s trip to Ireland being one of our most magical and marvelous journeys thus far.

A couple of weeks ago the routine scans came back with worrisome news.
Spots now on the remaining kidney, pancreas and liver.

She is to have the liver biopsied today…and depending on the outcome–
the other organs may or may not be biopsied, leaving us to deal with the results…

I’d offer you a good picture of Martha…just so you’d know who it is you’re exactly praying for
but both Martha and our traveling buddy Melissa love for me to take all the pictures my
little heart desires…
just as long as they are not pictures of them—
so I usually catch them when they least expect it…
only to have such pictures followed by death threats and destruction of my camera…

I thought to throw a couple of them in, but valued my life and the life of my camera…..

img_1681-1
(Martha waiting for dinner at Adare Manor, County Limerick, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

dscn0827
(Martha wandering with her back to me, which is very common, at Timoleague Friary /
County Cork / Julie Cook / September 2015)

Martha and I each believe very strongly in the power of prayer…

So just know that I thank you for joining with us as prayer warriors during
this worrisome time…

dscn1019
(Martha in rapt awe watching the youngest Daly boy cutting crystal in the family’s workshop in Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / Sept 2015)

dscn0112
(see what I mean…Temple Bar district, Dublin, Co Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The simple path

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
― L.M. Montgomery

“The Simple Path
Silence is Prayer
Prayer is Faith
Faith is Love
Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace”

― Mother Teresa

DSC01118
(a simple lovely breakfast / Julie Cook/ 2015)

5 readily available ingredients. . .
eggs, simmered 6 minutes–preferably as fresh and organic as they come, hence an orange yolk
1 slice of bread, lightly toasted–preferably a nice little rustic slice
butter, a light unctuous spread of the real deal
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
and there, my friend is a meal fit for both king or pauper.

Simple, unadulterated, humble fare.

And please excuse that sound of retching in the background because when my aunt sees this picture,
she will begin to throw up as she does not like eggs–not the sight, sound, smell or taste
but we shan’t allow that to stop this particular thread of thought this morning, she’ll quickly scroll past the picture.

Now, back to where we were. . .

Simple fare.
Nothing frufru,
nothing fancy smancy
A soul satisfying plate of bare bones simple.
As in less is more.

As human beings we have grown greatly accustomed to making more from less
We think more, bigger, extravagant equates to better, perhaps even best.
We want to top this with that.
We vie to go beyond.
Often not knowing when to leave things be.
We perfect and perfect some more.
We build upon what was there striving to make it all so much more special, more grand.
Stopping is not an option let alone failing. . .
We examine, expand, explore. . .always being ready to fix and to add
We pile on while always going beyond.

Satisfaction is fleeting
Settling unheard of
Resting on laurels passe

Yet it is when we scale back
Strip things bare
Pare down
Slow down
Detox
Declutter
Downsize
Clean out
Throw out
Simplify

Life becomes sweet, savory, pleasant, peaceful, complete.

So on this new morning to this new week, as life prepares to offer you a myriad of paths throughout a busy and most likely chaotic week, don’t be afraid or deterred when choosing your path– make the conscious decision to choose the simpler path. . .you just may be surprised that the choice of the simple and the less, in the end, is delightfully more satisfying.

The power of Chocolate

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
― Charles M. Schulz

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(a decadent slice of chocolate heaven from Sprungli’s cafe Zurich, Switzerland / Julie Cook / 2012)

For Mother, it was an icy cold Coke.
For Dad, it is chocolate, any and all sort.

Yesterday, late morning, I ran into one of my family’s favorite places in Atlanta.
Henri’s Bakery.
Henri’s is one of the oldest existing bakeries in the city, that and Rhodes Bakery. And granted there are better tasting bakeries within the city, Henri’s has long been woven into the fabric of my life starting when my mother was a little girl. I’ve never really thought much about it but I suppose having a very french sounding bakery in the middle of “old Atlanta” is a bit odd, especially to those transplant yankees and / or visitors to the city.

Henri’s is in the exact same location it’s been in since I was a little girl. Tucked away on a small unassuming little side street and now prime real-estate corner lot, lacking adequate parking, almost cowering in the shadows of high-rise office buildings, uber chic condos and the elegant St Regis Hotel. . .in an area that is at the center of what one considers to be the heart of true Atlanta or more commonly known as Buckhead.

Today’s Buckhead area is known for its posh and ultra chic shopping, Michelin Star dinning, eclectic watering holes, and 5 star hotels—a playground and shopping mecca of the famous and not so famous.
I simply just know it as the place where I spent my childhood and my growing up as both my grandmothers lived in Buckhead. It’s where my mom and dad grew up. . . walking to attend school, riding bikes to the movies, eventually meeting on a blind date and lucky for me, marrying.

Buckhead’s humble beginning was a far cry from today’s scene of upscale prestige. There once was an old general store at the crossroads of what is today’s Roswell Rd and Peachtree Rd. A single dirt road diverged into two separate dirt roads exactly at the site of the general store, with the store being the stopping point on one’s journey up either of the two roads. On the front of the old general store, up above the door, was a mounted head of a buck—hence Buckhead. This was a time long before Sherman had even set his sites on Atlanta, burning it to the ground.

Henri’s opened up in Atlanta in 1929, owned and operated by Henri Fiscus–a man who immigrated to Atlanta from France where he had been trained as a classic Chef. The original location was actually in downtown Atlanta–the location where my aunt remembers visiting every Sunday evening, along with my mom and grandmother, as they would go pick up Sunday’s quick and easy, but oh so fresh and good, supper. To this day, when she comes back to Georgia for a visit, I have to take her over to Atlanta to Henri’s for one of their famous Po Boys on the savory house made French Baguettes. I happen to be partial to the shortbread cookies. . .

I had driven over to Atlanta yesterday to run a few errands before going over to see Dad.
I had told Dad that I would pick up lunch.
“Oh no you don’t have to do that, I think we have something here”
“Dad, just ask Gloria if she’d like for me to pick up lunch.”
“GLO”
“Dad, if she’s not close by just ask her later and call me back”
I think he was afraid he’d forget to ask her as he continued hollering her name.
I suppose getting up and going to see where she was would have been too much to ask.
“GLO”
“IT’S JULIE ON THE WIRE”
Wire Dad?
Long story of yelling short, Gloria said yes, she’d like for me to pick up lunch.

After running a few errands in town, I headed over to Henri’s.
The last place my grandmother had lived was across the street from Henri’s.
Her condominiums having long since been torn down, now making room for a sprawling modern upscale living and shopping development. As I fight off the sweeping cloak of melancholy and longing that always finds me when I drive past my memories, I fretted about finding a parking spot.
Henri’s gets very very crowded at lunchtime–so much so that they have an off duty Atlanta policeman directing traffic.

Today I was lucky, a spot at the front door! Woohoo!!
Walking in the door, I immediately grab a shopping basket and head over to the shelf containing the sandwiches. There is only a limited number of the “famous” sandwiches that are made up for the day–if you’re not early, you miss out but there is now a counter where you can have your sandwiches custom made if you prefer. I grab two of the Po boys and a regular turkey on white for dad, a couple of sacks of chips as I make for the most important counter in the store. . . the beautifully displayed pastries, cakes and cookies.

As I ogle the decadent goodies through the glass, a woman behind the counter asks if she can help me.
I ask for 2 dozen of the shortbread cookies, the ones with the little colorful sugar dot in the center, with each dozen going in a separate box. One box to stay with dad, one box to go home with me.
Next I ask for the most important item of all on my list—two chocolate bombs.
A most decadent conglomeration of chocolate cake, cream, chocolate ganache, a chocolate shell covered in chocolate shavings—for I know my father’s weakness. . .Chocolate.

Dad let’s me in the house as I carry in our lunch.
Like a little kid, he can’t wait for me to pull out the magic little white boxes.
“What’s that?”
“What’s in there?”
“What’s in that box?”
“Cookies Dad.”
“Oooo, I love cookies”
“What’s in that thing?”
“That Dad is your chocolate bomb–2 of them” I proudly proclaim knowing that I have just made his day.
“Oooooo”

Dad eats only half his sandwich before he asks for a cookie.
He chooses the cookie with the chocolate dot on top, opting the eat the chocolate center while leaving the shortbread cookie part behind. At 87 I’m thinking he’s acting more like 7 but I don’t say anything.
“Can I have my bomb now” as glee filled expectancy fills the room.
“You’ve got two of them Dad, you can eat them whenever you’d like!”
“I want one now” which is more of a demand than a polite statement.
In less then 10 minutes, the only thing remaining on his plate are a few chocolate crumbs.

Happy, chatty, friendly and the most attentive and focused he’s really been in a long time, Dad has had a good day, which in turn equates to my having had a good day with Dad.
There is often no substitute for the familiar, the tried and the true.
In this case a humble little outdated bakery which is still owned and operated by the founding family, throw in a couple of sandwiches, a box of shortbread cookies, a chocolate bomb or two, and you’ve got the making of a magical moment.
May we never under estimate the power of chocolate.

Birthdays, Ice Makers, and Medicare? part II

“I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
Thomas Jefferson

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Okay, so yesterday we left off with the rant of a poor husband who had just turned 65 and found out he had to pay for something he was forced to sign up for, against his better wishes, with no option of opting out–aka–Medicare.
The whole choice but no choice scenario
And we were left with the laughter of a thousand far off voices when he mentioned he thought Medicare was something the Government did for free for it’s “seniors”—not that he’s a senior.

And just as we begin to recover from his near apoplexy over receiving the initial Medicare bill, we pick up right where we left off. . .

I quickly call me aunt.
When all else fails, always call Martha. . .

“Yep, you pay”
“If he was drawing Social Security, it would come out of that, but since he’s not, hence the bill.”
We thought it was a free service.
Hysterical laughter now from the receiver of the phone.

The following morning, the bill was gone. My hope was that he carried it to work in order to pay it, otherwise I suppose I should be looking for us a new home, say in, Argentina or Bolivia. Isn’t that where you go when you need to hide out?

Let’s switch gears for a minute.
Since there was indeed a birthday and a rather memorable one at that, we need a present right?
A good present.
Enter the ice maker.

We have an LG refrigerator. LG refrigerators are known for having notorious dysfunctional ice makers. I even wrote the president of LG, just after we got the fridge, complaining. I was told we could call in a service order to request a replacement, of which I did. Number two ice maker was equally as poor.

Each evening I hear the same litany regarding “that sorry ice maker” and how a refrigerator he had back in 1920 made better ice then “that sorry thing over there”
Over there is against the wall in the kitchen and as for 1920, I exaggerate just a tad

When I was mulling what to get for his birthday, I had an ingenious thought!
A marvelous thought!
As in the best present ever sort of thought!
Enter the small portable ice maker!
Genius!

I did my homework.
I researched all the little ice makers I could find information on, reading reviews and consumer reports. I settled on a Smart Plus (Smart + )
I ordered it from Amazon.
I love Amazon but that’s for another day.

In a couple of days FedX pulls up to deliver the ice maker.
I put a bow on the box and wait for the big day.

On that special day marking the 65th year on the planet, I bring out the big box with the big bow.
“I told you not to get me anything, we need to save money and here you are buying presents. . .what is it?” as a smile forms on now a childlike face.

He digs into the box like only any kid would and could.
He finally realizes what it is . . “OH WOW–AN ICE MAKER” (you should be hearing childlike glee as you are reading)
We read the instructions and I explain that I’ll need to thoroughly wash it out and run a couple of test batches first in order to get that “made in China” smell and taste out of the machine—as in yes, it is indeed made in China.
He’s happy.
I’m happy.
It’s a good birthday.

The following day, I run out to the store in order to buy a couple of gallons of distilled water as I understand that distilled water makes for clear cubes. And yes, this machine is to make the round tube like cubes, not the half moon things he hates out of the refrigerator.

I plug it in, add the water, set the controls, wait a tad—then woosh, the little machine churns out water.
Ok, maybe it’s not cold enough yet.
Again Woosh, again water.
I feel around inside the little ice making tubes.
They are not cold.
Hummmmm. . .
Not cold at all.
Aren’t things like refrigerators, freezers and ice makers suppose to be cold?
Again, I reset the numbers.
Woosh, water.
Again, woosh, water.

WHAT??
AAAGGGGHHHH!

Wait a minute.
When you plug in a refrigerator, large or small, aren’t you suppose to hear a motor? A motor like in a compressor??
The freaking compressor is not coming on.
Are you freaking kidding me!!!?
At this point I think I kicked the open drawer by my foot which was open and housed my mixing bowls. I now have 4 less mixing bowls.

When my husband comes home, I break the bad news hoping that he’ll know how to make it work. Maybe I’m not plugging it in correctly?
He pittles with it and declares it to be indeed a dud.
The compressor will not come on.

AAAGGGGHHHHHHH!!!

I’m furious.
“Can you get your money back” he asks almost pleading for the affirmative.
“Yes danmnit” as I sadly put the thing back in the packing styrofoam and into the big box.
I contact Amazon.
They issue a packing mailer and I proceed to write a “to whom it may concern” letter to Smart +
lambasting an ice maker made in China. . .why can’t an American Company produce a product in America, using American ingenuity, putting Americans to work, where American workers take pride in producing quality American products???? What’s happened to this country???!!!!

UGH!!!

The perfect present goes back from whence it came via UPS.
The following day, I go to the mall in order to buy a back up present–the standard boring dress pants and shirts. Same ol same ol birthday goods–with these high end dress clothes, from a very reputable and long established high end American men’s clothier–with their very high end clothes being made in. . .wait for it. . . Malaysia.

(Picture my head hung very low) UGH!

Oh and did I mention that the insurance company sent out a giant booklet regarding the birthday boy now being a part of Medicare. And no, I couldn’t tell you if it is A, B, C, D, E, or F. . .
Seems that since he is now enrolled in Medicare, he’s no longer to use the doctor, his primary healthcare doctor, here in our town, he’s been using for almost the past 25 years–as Medicare says he must go elsewhere.

AAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Bolivia eh???