Getting ready for being actively receptive..

“Nothing, how little so ever it be,
if it is suffered for God’s sake,
can pass without merit in the sight of God.”

Thomas a Kempis


(Arizona)

There are resolutions made fresh and anew at the beginning of each new year…
those things we decide to give up or take on in hope of becoming better at simply being us.

Some are kept, most are not.

Then comes Lent…a time when there are also things to be given up and or taken on
all in order to recall one man’s journey in a desert for a period of 40 days, in hopes
of bettering our souls.

Some are kept, others are not.

Yet it is during Lent that the keeping and or the letting go seems to be more important,
sharper and keener…
The burden is better understood, the giving in and letting go pricks more sharply.

It matters not whether your church, your avenue of faith, carries you along the road
of participating in Lent or not.
It matters little whether or not you “practice” Lent.
All Christians can, however, come together in the reflection of this time of Jesus’
earthly journey while on His spiritual path.

The entire idea is simply to be present with Christ on this journey.

How you decide to do that, is well, how you decide to do that.
Simply being present to Him…as in just you and Him…on a journey, together,
in a barren wasteland with everything and anything that is a distraction
being stripped away…while there is one who does his darndest to thwart your efforts
of being focused and present with and for your companion.

If it’s giving up chocolate because you always give up chocolate,
and later finding yourself fudging here and there, then that’s not
really taking a part of the journey now, is it…
Thinking that chocolate or the lack thereof helps you to focus
more keenly on the journey and on your companion…well, I don’t know.

This journey is bigger than chocolate…just saying.

For this journey is not a surface sort of trek…
but rather it is a time of real darkness and trial.
It is an arduous journey taken not by the faint of heart.
For it is a journey to the recesses of your being.

And it is a journey we are afforded, or better yet offered, to take yearly…
As each year we are reminded and allowed to recall that first foray of determined boldness
into the desert so long ago.

Deserts are formidable places.
Desolate, dry, lonely, empty, hot places.
Places we don’t much wish to find ourselves.
As our shadowed nemesis delights in tempting us out and away from this
place of deep introspection.
And yet Jesus goes…willingly.

It is here where we first see the earthly glimpse of His willingness to go…
just as we will shortly see, His willingness to descend into hell
for three days in order to do battle for our souls.

Yet each year, we make the conscious decision to choose to go along.
We decide to accompany Jesus into this desert…both His and our own.

Some of us will try to muster on while others of us turn relatively quickly for a fast
retreat.

And yet year after year, we make a choice as to whether or not we want to take this
journey alongside Jesus, knowing we may or may not make it…
But the real fact of the matter is that Jesus always makes the same choice…
the choice to always go…

As Jesus becomes our lynchpin.
He is our support in and out of the desert.

Our friend over on the blog Thoughts from the Side of the House
reminds us of this notion…he explains that our choice boils down alone to the single
matter of desire…as well as our being open to that desire…receptive to that choice.

Receptive to the choice of wanting to actually go hand in hand with Jesus on his arduous
journey into the desert.

As his friend Monsignor Heintz reminds us that whatever we attach our attention to,
becomes us.
If our desires are worldly, then the desert is not to be our foray.

Therefore as we now stand in the shadow of Lent, standing before the Desert…
we each much ask, are we will willing to travel with Jesus with the focus and intent
such a journey requires.

It is not for the faint of heart.

When I was in grad school a couple of my professors introduced me to the concept
of “active receptivity,” an influential concept in the thought of a
Polish philosopher named Karol Wojtyla.
Roughly, it means willingly desiring to receive certain gifts and,
if necessary, actively doing things to make such reception possible.
For instance, when I was a student, if I truly wanted to learn, I had to desire to
learn, to actively listen, engage and study concepts to truly understand them.
This idea is key for me in my spiritual life.

“In the early Christian tradition of mystical theology,
there was an aphorism of anonymous origin and goes like this:
“you become the object of your contemplation.”
That is, whatever we fix our attention upon,
whatever becomes the focus of our energies and our imagination,
whatever it is that consumes our thoughts and desires,
has an imperceptible but genuine impact upon us, shaping our sensibilities,
molding our personality, and making us – far more than we often realize – who we are.
The standard objects of fallen human desire: power, pleasure, wealth, can subtly take
hold of us, and our desire for them changes who we are;
we stray farther and farther from God and find ourselves in a land of unlikeness.

Monsignor Mike Heintz

You Become What You Think About

how a panic gets started…

“I always thought a shipwreck was a well-organized affair,
but I’ve learned the devil a lot in the last five minutes.”

Erik Larson, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania


(a decadent chocolate treat from The Confiserie Sprüngli / Zurich, Switzerland /
Julie Cook / 2012)

I think most of us know that it is unlawful to yell “FIRE” in a crowded
public venue when there is actually no fire.

The original use of the phrase “shouting fire in a crowded theater” actually
dates back to a Supreme Court case from 1919.
It was a case that dealt with the distribution of anti-war pamphlets and whether such
an act was a violation of the original Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 / 1918—
and was such an act in opposition, as well as a violation, of free speech or was it considered ‘a clear and present danger.’

It was actually Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who coined the phrase when
he wrote the unanimous ruling over the case.

And according to Wikipedia:
People have indeed falsely shouted “Fire!” in crowded public venues and
caused panics on numerous occasions, such as at the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall
of London in 1856, a theater in New York’s Harlem neighborhood in 1884,
and in the Italian Hall disaster of 1913, which left 73 dead.
In the Shiloh Baptist Church disaster of 1902, over 100 people died when
“fight” was misheard as “fire” in a crowded church causing a panic and stampede.

All of this came flooding back to the forefront of thought when I saw a news report
with the near cataclysmic title
“Start Hoarding! Chocolate on Track to Disappear in 40 Years”

WHAT????

Chocolate gone in 40 years????

We might just say down here in the South, “thems fighting words”

After reading that title I felt a sudden urge to run to the kitchen, throw open
all the kitchen cabinet doors and take immediate stock of all the chocolate I have
stashed away for baking purposes….
Do I need to run the the grocery store and purge the shelves of 70% Cacao bars for all
my baking and dessert purposes????

Visions of pandemonium breaking out on the candy aisle at the local grocery store
as visions of a bunch of older ladies on walkers and kids with sneakers that light up fighting over bags of M&M’s…not a pretty picture.

And so goes the latest in a string of earth shattering headlines that when all
is shifted and shaked out…are not exactly as life shattering or life ending as
the words allude.

Clicking on the story and reading the tale behind these alarming headlines and
whereas the dwindling supply of chocolate is truly a real concern…
the headlines are not as dismal nor as damning as they lead one to believe.

And therein lies our trouble.

Sensationalism.

The “news” media has learned that they can grab and stir up the masses into
a frenzy of epic proportions with just a couple of carefully lined up words.

And we, the receivers, fall hook, line and sinker to the gurus of verbiage.

The moral of this tale you ask…..
well perhaps it is two fold…..
Firstly do not take headlines at face value….

In education we call such headlines “a hook”—-as in it grabs your audience…
pulling the recipient quickly into a state of curiosity while knowing that they,
your target audience, will be naturally curious… wanting to know more,
experience more, participate more….

And secondly–yes, in the reality of life, the cocoa plant is in peril….
yet is the peril as grave as we are being lead to believe?

I think the jury is still out on that….
and therefore, it would behoove us to be a bit more cautionary when it comes
to feeling the need to race to the store…grabbing up those precious bags of M&Ms
out of the hands of the grandparents and those fighting grandchildren…

https://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/world/2018/01/02/start-hoarding-chocolate-track-disappear-40-years/109090682/?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=usatodaycomworld-topstories

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

Can a human being really remain neutral?

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who,
in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

Dante Alighieri


(photograph of Carl Lutz, Swiss Ambassador to Hungry, as seen from the cellar
where he and those he protected waited out the battle of the Soviets over the Nazi occupation)

I promise, really I do…..
I’ll get back to my focus on what I took away this week when watching our friend the
Wee Flea but first—- I have to share this story.

It’s a story I saw day before yesterday and it begged me to stop and
read further.

I did and I was glad that I did.

The story is a story with a back story….
and I believe it will be beneficial for us to first read the
back story in order to fully understand the front story….
of which is an end story…. which is really just a story about humankind.

How’s that for a story about a story??!!

I would think that most of us who know any little something about nations,
countries, Europe wars, etc, knows that that tiny land locked country of Switzerland
is and has always been known for being fiercely neutral.

It has watches and clocks.
It has the Alps and skiing.
It has snow and the Matterhorn.
It has Heidi and cows.
It has chocolate.
It also has neutrality.

As in it maintains a fierce state of neutrality.

The words ‘fiercely neutral’ almost rings of an oxymoron…..
because when one thinks of the word and notion of being neutral and of neutrality,
one would naturally think nonchalant, laid back or indifferent…
not seemingly to care one way or another as to what’s going on around
say, in the neighboring countries.

Think of it like “we’re neutral, we’re not getting involved with that…”
sort of mindset.

Switzerland is globally recognized as a Neutral Nation.

Meaning Switzerland doed not engage in wars nor will it get involved.
Despite having a military requirement that all young Swiss males serve two years in
the Swiss Army.

My husband has a life long Swiss friend who has shared his tales of committal to a
military inscription as a young man. He marvels that I would love to have had his
Government issued Swiss army blanket as those original blankets now command a
pretty penny.

According to a story on the BBC Travel section, the Swiss have not always been
a neutral nation. I found this to be quite interesting.

Their past, it turns out, might actually appear to be a bit more unsavory than
gallant as they started out not so much as indifferent as they did fortuitous mercenaries.

According to Merriam Webster a mercenary is of a person,
or the behavior of said person, which is primarily concerned with making money
at the expense of ethics.

That doesn’t sound too much like someone interested in being a
humanitarian or neutral now does it??

And even currently found on the Swiss government’s website it states that not only is
the nation to focus on the country’s humanitarian bent
(think Red Cross on flag for a reason)
it lists some of the rules: The country must refrain from engaging in war,
not allow belligerent states to use its territory and not supply mercenary troops to belligerent states….

Hummmmm…..

According to Billie Cohen the author of the article,
even the way the country is set up seems like the epitome of peaceful
coexistence. Politically it’s a direct democracy;
culturally it recognises four language groups;
and as you crisscross the cantons, you feel like you’re visiting four countries:
Italy (in Ticino), Germany (in Zurich), France (in Geneva)
and a unique descendant of the Roman Empire (in Grisons).

I’ll let you click on the link below for the full story of Switzerland’s neutrality
as it is rather interesting but suffice it to say that being a mercenary nation
became no longer advantageous nor profitable as the Swiss were militarily routed
by both the French and Venetian forces in 1515.

Selling out then to France, as acting bodyguards to the King, became the path of least resistance and least painful….that was until a certain French Revolution
rolled around, as heads were also rolling, so thus a rethinking,
or more like a redo or makeover, was in the works.

Neutrality it would be.

But then the World Wars happened, and that reputation was sorely tested,
especially during WWII when Switzerland controversially bought Jewish gold from Nazi Germany and refused Jewish refugees.
“From a Swiss perspective, [neutrality] was successful in so far as Switzerland
wasn’t involved in fighting,” Goestchel explained.
“There have been many debates if Switzerland was really neutral,
especially in WWII, but it wasn’t involved in fighting activities.”

( http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20170717-the-country-that-cant-choose-a-side)

And so it helps for us to understand Switzerland as a whole before we can fully
appreciate the story a certain Swiss diplomat…..

All of this—this particular story, makes me wonder….
It makes me wonder as to how is it that I can still be amazed??
How can there continue being tales of such goodness and quiet heroism that just
seem to keep popping up out of the blue during a time of such horrendous darkness?

Just when you’re pretty certain you’ve read or heard all there is in the way of
the positives during the World’s greatest time of negative…
something else is uncovered, unearthed and brought to light…

One of those still hidden, yet rare tiny gems.

And so is the story of Carl Lutz.

Mr Lutz was a Swiss diplomat who had served his diplomatic time in the 1930s
in Palestine.
(Remember Israel was not yet a nation…that was after the war in 1948)
He was up and transferred to Budapest in 1942—a rather precarious time
for a transfer during what was shaping up to be a full blown European war.

Upon Lutz’s arrival it became most apparent quite quickly that Hungary’s Jews were in
grave peril and Mr. Lutz realized that in his position,
that of a lone diplomat in a country that no longer had an American or British embassy,
it rested upon him and a handful of others to do something drastic.

Dubbed Switzerland’s Schindler, Lutz got to work.

As one of a few remaining diplomates Lutz was to act as “diplomat” for those
countries no longer represented in Hungry. He was to represent the interests of those countries who had removed their staffs due to the war.
So Lutz went about the task to create a slew of protective passports under the guise of various countries….and not for just individuals, as he had lead German authorities
to believe, but rather passports to entire families.

He also fudged his number counting hoping that the Germans would not notice.

For those Jewish families and individuals who he could not spirit out of the country,
he found and created 76 safe houses and places that he could hide them away—
away from the Nazis seeking to deport all of Hungry’s Jews to the Death Camps.

It is estimated that Lutz saved the lives of 62,000 people.

“It is the largest civilian rescue operation of the Second World War,” says Charlotte Schallié.

Other diplomates still living in Budapest did the same. Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish envoy did his share to assist the Jews. But it was Lutz who made the decision to use
his own Embassy as a safe house.

After the war, when he finally returned home to Switzerland, it was not to a
hero’s welcome as one would imagine. Instead Lutz returned across the border alone.
There was no congratulations from his colleagues or Government but rather a
stinging rap on the knuckles, a reprimand for overstepping his boundaries and
for being what was thought to be careless and foolhardy.

Yet Lutz’s selflessness and humanitarian bravery has not gone totally unnoticed.

Over the years Lutz was awarded honors from Israel, Hungry, The UK, The United States
and slowly even Switzerland has made a few memorials to one of their own who
when push came to shove chose to take a stand rather than to stand by in neutral
watching thousands of men, woman and children being sent to certain death.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42400765

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.
Would that you were either cold or hot!
So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:15-16

taking the good and the bad with chocolate covered doughnuts

“New mysteries.
New day.
Fresh doughnuts.”

David Lynch
79370761d15dc69c9c1b01927b90125d

This was not to be today’s post.
Today’s post was to be something deep and meaningful.
Something thought provoking and profound.

But after spending the day yesterday in Atlanta with Dad,
I thought profound could wait.

Last week I had shared a post entitled Status quo
a post about how, at this point with Dad, we were just happy to have the status quo.
A hanging in and on…

Well that status quo changed in the blink of an eye.

I knew he wasn’t doing well and that it’s all just a matter of time…
but the hospice nurse told me Thursday that his kidneys are failing…rapidly.
And that it truly is just a matter of time…she certainly did think he’d last the weekend,
but his kidneys couldn’t hold out much longer…
As I suppose the cancer will push the kidneys to their breaking point.
cause Cancer is just that way.

And happily, blessedly, he did last the weekend…

For the one thing about Dad that you should know is that the genes he inherited,
at least from his mother’s side, have tremendous staying power.
He is a Timex watch and an Energizer Bunny all rolled into one.
As he goes on and on while taking a licking….but he keeps on ticking!

Not so much because he is strong, full of fortitude or stamina…
far from it….
He is not, nor has he ever been athletic, health conscious or a vigorous sort of soul.
He will actually finally confess to the very truthful fact that he is,
and always has been, lazy…
As he was a man who also loved his scotch….

But what Dad does have is chocolate.
A deep and abiding love of chocolate… as it courses through his veins.

I’ve written about Dad and chocolate before.
I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
He can eat chocolate 24/7

Now mind you, I love a good piece of chocolate or some decadent type of chocolate dessert…
As there is nothing quite like a cold creamy slice of chocolate pie topped with a generous mound of whipped cream, a rich yet elegant pots de creme,
or a handful of M&M’s grabbed while on the run…
but I can’t just sit around all day long eating chocolate….I’d get sick as a dog!

But that is exactly what Dad’s beside table looks like—a plethora of all things chocolate.
As he doesn’t miss a beat nor does he get sick.
It’s like Popeye and his spinach.

So when I picked up their groceries,
I naturally picked up several items out of the chocolate food group.
And when I returned home, Dad demanded that I bring him one of the chocolate covered doughnuts…
as in, immediately.
Never mind I told him he’d need to eat at least a bite of lunch first…
for Dad’s appetite for real food is now almost non existent,
yet as for all things chocolatey, he’s still going strong.

So imagine my startled surprise when I walked back into his bedroom to check on him,
chatting away while putting things away…
when I suddenly look up, only to find him like a little kid,
with his mouth covered in chocolate…

img_0850

img_0851

So I suppose a picture is indeed worth a thousand words…
reminding us that in those times of sadness and sorrow, pain and frustration…
we can still find a glimmer of hope, a smile, a laugh and actually something good…
of which helps us forget, albeit briefly, the bad…

So for today…we’ll take both the good and the bad as long as there is chocolate and doughnuts….

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit
who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

pecans and prayers

“The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

RSCN4110
( our first crop of pecans / Julie Cook / 2016)

First of all let’s start off on a positive foot this morning…

Look at our first pecans on our little pecan tress.

You may remember the post I did about a year and a half ago regarding the whole buying, planting and caring for our little grove to be of 15 pecan trees…

People are all the time asking
“what are those cute little stick-like trees out in the field…?”

And I like to tell them that they are my little green topped Q-tips—
because that’s what they look like, an orchard of 15 little green topped Q-tips…

But how exciting it is that one tree out of 15 has decided to bless us with pecans…
However the jury is still out on whether or not they will actually mature into full fledged nuts…

Now on to the more serious…

I arrived at Dad’s early this morning, just on time to get him up and out the door to head off to the doctor’s for a scope procedure to figure out why he’s bleeding so much upon urination.

Dad had his prostate removed almost 30 years ago so that’s not the worry.
His late brother did have a kidney removed, due to a contained kidney cancer, when he was about Dad’s age and did fine with all of that—but he was always much more spry, active and more positive than dad.

So let me just say that I have been frustrated by the lack of speed in which these doctors seem to be operating.

Over a month ago I called Dad’s primary doctor telling him about the blood we’ve all been seeing and wondered might Dad not have another UTI?
He says he doesn’t have time for Dad to come in that particular day, how about in two days…

Ok, really???…you don’t have time for an 88 year old man who is losing blood from a rather odd place to come pee in a cup?

Ok
Whatever…

So when we finally jump through that little hoop, the labs come back negative for infection.
Henceforth we are referred to a specialist urologist—
A specialist who doesn’t have an opening for 3 weeks.

REALLY???

An 88 year old man is now bleeding every time he pees and is leaking blood on his clothes and sheets and you don’t have something sooner than 3 weeks???!!!

I know I’m surely not the only one thinking that Dad is
now more pale and much more frail and feeble.
I am not a rocket scientist but if I had an 88 year old patient losing blood,
I think I might consider that he could now be anemic and that maybe, just maybe,
he might need to get said 88 year old in the office asap…
(after today’s event, I will be calling the primary doc back tomorrow for some immediate labs)

So anywhooo, we wait.
Meanwhile Dad is calling daily to inform me that he is now not long for this world.

“DAD…will you stop that!!!”
“Let’s try and think positive shall we….”

So today when my son and I show up at Dad’s door,
in order to whisk him away for the 20 minute drive north for this procedure,
Dad is still sitting in his chair.

“Dad, come on, we’ve got to go….”
“Uh, I need to go shave”
A collective “WHAT??!!” is bellowed throughout the room by me, the caregiver, my stepmother and my son.
As in what have you been doing all morning but sitting in that chair waiting on me to come
get you and you still need to shave?!

“Well just go get my electric razor and I’ll shave in the car…”

Really?!

I tell my son the grab the walker, I grab dad, who grabs his razor and out the door we go.

Walking out the door I see that Dad is wearing a very dirty pair of khakis—
“Been sneaking more chocolate again Dad…?”
“Uh, do you want me to change pants?”

“Heaven’s no, we don’t have time–maybe no one will notice you’re wearing both last night’s supper, a bag of candy and this morning’s breakfast….”

Once in the car, I need to use my trusty little Mapquest app to find where we’re going as it’s north of Atlanta, somewhere way up 400.
However I can’t hear the lovely Mapquest woman talking for the loud buzzing of Dad’s razor.

“Dad do you need to use the mirror?”
“No”

Great, he’s now going to look like some Chinese Crested Chihuahua dog…

6a1c1edb-b647-4ecc-815a-519b744935a5
(not exactly dad, but very close)

We finally arrive at a massive array of office buildings, high up on a hill, perched off a very busy road.
A, B and C.
We need building C.
Upon seeing building C’s drive, I turn immediately.
Luckily no one is behind me to rear-end me.

I stop the car long enough for my son to get both walker and Dad out of the car, allowing them to head on up into the massive maze while I go to the massive maze of a parking deck.

By the time I rendezvous with my people, it’s time for Dad to head back for the procedure.
The nurse takes us back to a room where she tells Dad to drop his pants and hop up on the table.

Really???!

She then ushers me out into the hallway to wait in a chair as I explain to her that she might want to help him with that whole dropping of the pants and hopping up on the exam table…
you saw the walker right?

Barely 5 minutes pass and I see dad exiting the door, holding his unzipped, unbuttoned, unbelted pants as he shuffles at breakneck speed down the hall.
I jump up but some nurse voice from behind me tells me not to worry he just needs to go empty his bladder.

Oh, that’s reassuring.

Dad makes his way back down the hall in order to take a chair by me.
I notice that the entire backside of his pants is soaked.

Really???

I tell the nurse we seem to have had an accident.
She then asks if Dad would like a pair of scrubs.
“No” he wearily replies as he tells me the doctor found a tumor.

WHAT???

Finally the nurse comes to check his blood pressure and to give us his discharge papers.
Discharge papers????
He wasn’t back there 5 minutes!
She again asks about the scrubs.
He declines so she gives me a pad to put in the car.

Great.

The doctor, with hands stuffed in the pockets of his white coat, saunters down the hall
to where we sit and pulls the curtain—
So now we can’t see anyone around us but we can hear everyone loud and clear as they can hear us.
Funny how we fearfully fret over HIPAA laws, yet we leave nothing to privacy in hospitals and procedure facilities…
perfect sense…just like this country, but I digress.

Mr personalityless doctor tells me he wants dad back—they will call me in about 5 days to schedule a procedure to remove what they can of the tumor and send it off for a biopsy and hopefully it will curtail the bleeding.

I look at the doctor explaining to him that Dad has a tendency to gravitate to the negative and fixates on all things cancer, and that I’ve explained to Dad that not all tumors mean a person has cancer…right?!
The doctor offers a dry and unreassuring “yes”

Great.

After leaving the maze of a building, finding the car, getting Dad and walker back in the car, we prepare for our drive home.

“So Dad, what would you like for lunch?

“I can’t think about lunch right now, I have cancer.”

“DAD, no one said you have cancer.”

“I think you should call the church and put me on the prayer list.”

“Dad, you aren’t dying, you don’t need a prayer list…and anyway, you’ve not been to that church
in over 20 years, you don’t even know who the priest is up there…”
“We’ll call Martha and get her to put you on her list”
“Now what about lunch…”

Finally getting a very dejected Dad back home with his soaking wet pants, to the safety of his chair,
my stepmother greets us at the door…

“well, how’d you make out?”

“The doctor says Dad has a tumor in the bladder…”

“A container in his bladder??”
(she can’t hear and refuses to get hearing aids)

“NO, A TUMOR”
“oh” as she chuckles to herself…as I figure she has no clue as to what I’m talking about.

Asking again what everyone wants for lunch, the consensus is Chick-fil-A.

As I head out the door, dad hollers out “DON’T FORGET THE COOKIES”
Nothing like a little sweet to take the worry out of the day….

So let’s put dad on the prayer list here please—

I’ll keep you updated….

Meanwhile may we all be mindful that something as simple as a cookie or
something even nice and chocolatey, as Dad will testify,
can definitely help cure what ails you!

RSCN4111

RSCN4109

Greater love

DSCN0009
(flowers from a street vendor Grafton St. Dublin Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I bought you some flowers, well sort of, for Valentine’s day.
I wanted to say thank you.
I want to thank you for taking time out of your day and and of your life in order to stop by here….this little corner of the world I call my own..here on cookiecrumbs.
Your visits, your reading, your commenting, your support, your friendship are each deeply appreciated.
All of which has been your special gift to me…and means so very much.

The inception of the recognition of Valentine’s day being based on the martyred death of a 3rd century Christian, should never be lost in the hoopla and the hype of the overtly commercialized “holiday” we know today.

That this modern day recognition of Valentine’s Day, a day to honor, recognize and profess our undying love to those we hold dear or better yet, hope to dearly hold…
This day designated for spending, buying and bestowing…a day of all things red, beating hearts, flowers, chocolate, devotion and professing…
A day which should never overshadow that Valentine’s day, a day named for a saint of the same name and of which is certainly a day of love, is based on the selfless love of giving one’s life for another…with the greatest example being that of the blood shed by one who hung upon a cross…for you and for me…
for there has never been any greater love….

St Valentine was a bishop, and is thought to have been a physician.
He was arrested for giving aid to Christian prisoners awaiting martyrdom, and
while imprisoned he converted the jailer by restoring sight to the jailer’s daughter.
St. Valentine refused to deny Christ before the Emperor Claudius in the year 280 and won the
jeweled crown of martyrdom by his faithful witness.
The feast of St Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I

(as seen on a Catholic prayer card)

Praise the Lord and pass the Chocolate. . .

“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”
Victor Hugo

IMG_1437
(blooming beauty coneflowers / Julie Cook / 2015)

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. . .!!!
That’s me bursting into song. . .
And for whatever reason, whenever I’m heard to mutter the phrase “Praise the Lord” it is instinctively followed with another phrase. . . “pass the ammunition. . .
Which, I might add, is actually the lyrics to a real song—so don’t think I’m daft or crazy.

Praise the Lord And Pass The Ammunition was a song written in 1942 in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. . .now as to why that phrase flows forth as part of my singing repertoire, I couldn’t say- – -maybe it’s because of some sort of deep-seated Broadwayesque hidden desire on my part—or maybe it’s more aptly because I am now very tried and perhaps a bit slap happy. . . either way, I’m bursting forth in song as well as praise. . .

Dad came through the anesthesia like a champ.
For a shriveled up 87 year old, pale, bone thin individual, Dad is like the energizer bunny who just keeps taking licking after licking but keeps on thankfully ticking!
Inflammation and colitis sure beats what it was thought to have been!!

He’s barely eaten in 3 weeks. No sustenance nor nourishment to speak of nor nutriments staying in.
Weak and frail has been the name of the game.

After waking up, with the doctor telling him there is no cancer, Dad immediately wants to know what he can and can’t eat. He keys in on the doctor saying, ” Well I don’t think we need to starve him. . .”

Fast forward to our trek back home.

“Dad, would you like for me to stop by Chick-fil-A so I can order you a little bowl of their chicken noodle soup?”
This on a day that it’s 91 degrees outside.
“Well, that sounds good, but I’d really rather have one of their chocolate brownies”

“DAD, YOU CAN’T EAT CHOCOLATE BROWNIES, NOT YET!”
I practically scream as I then rationally try explaining that he’s barely eaten anything in 3 weeks and that his guts are still irritated and inflamed—he needs to go slow as he now needs meds to help bring a healing. . . needing to gradually build back up to eating “real” food.
Chicken noodle soup is a good start. . .

“Well”, Dad counters. . .”I’d still prefer a chocolate brownie—they’ll keep. . .just get me one for later”
Knowing good and well that his idea of later is in later this evening when he knows I’m good and gone, headed back out of town. . .I do not order the brownie. . .”Maybe for Father’s Day you can have chocolate. . .” I counter, much to his chagrin. . .

Yet despite ailments and chocolate requests, I want to offer my heartfelt “thank you” to each of you for your good wishes, thoughts, love and prayers.
Hopefully the meds will bring a healing and he’ll slowly get to add back real food, gain some strength and get back to what he enjoys most in life. . .sitting in his chair, watching Buck Rogers (yep, they still replay the 1930’s childhood favorite) all while eating, noshing, snacking and savoring on all things chocolate. . .
Praise the Lord indeed!!!

Warm and spicy…let’s add a pear—Or— once again, Cooking with Cookie

“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

DSC00162
(a beautiful Bosc pear / Julie Cook / 2015)

AAAAGGGGHHHHHH
Bam, bam bam. . .
Did you hear that?
That is the sound of my head clunking against the wall.
Looking outside, for as far as the eye can behold, which by the way they’re telling us is less than half a mile, is nothing but grey, fog, mist, damp, drizzle, cold, wet, blah, yuck, monotone of what has become our Winters. . .
Day after day of grey onto more and more grey. . .

HELP!!
A diversion!
That’s it, a diversion. . .
We need a diversion!!!!
Actually we really need to hop on a plane, flying “down under” to our friends in the Southern Hemisphere for a quick visit as I hear they’re in the midst of a heat wave.
Really.
But since we must follow practicalities, we need a more readily available diversion.

Consider the pear.
What?
Yes, the pear.

When I was a little girl, I can remember my grandparents, always this time of year, receiving a box of crisp fresh pears. . .from some exotic far away land like, say, Florida or California. Why they couldn’t go the grocery store like my mother would, in order to purchase the mealy overly ripe heavily bruised variety, was beyond my young comprehension. And if the truth be told, the pears my mom bought actually came in cans.
What??
You’ve never seen the canned pear tree!!??
Libby, DelMonte. . .it didn’t matter.
Pear halves packed in heavy syrup.
Those being the heady days before “health”. . .

Mother would serve them, as most folks during those dark days of canned, store bought, prepackaged, processed, readily available foods, drained and perched on a bed of iceberg lettuce (the only lettuce my dad believes in) accented with a dollop of the real deal, nothing low-fat about it, mayonnaise topped with a smattering of grated cheddar cheese.
Voila the ubiquitous Pear Salad of the 1960’s.

Of course there was that exotic French Liqueur, found when I tagged along with my Dad, as a little girl, to the local liquor store for his weekly run for beer, Poire Williams— the one with a real full sized pear floating in a bottle of clear liquid —the mystery I never could figure out. . .as in how they got the actual pear inside the bottle. . .and not understanding why dad wouldn’t buy me the bottle so I could investigate further.

Yep.
That pretty much sums up what was my full knowledge of pears. . .until I finally grew up.

There’s nothing better than a perfectly cool, crisp, juicy pear.
You know, the one whose juices dribble down your chin as you take each tenderly sweet bite after bite. . .but as Mr Emerson so blatantly reminds us at the start of the post, that time of perfection is but a very narrow window.

In my quest and need of and for diversion from the constant grey outside my window, I opted to poke around for a new recipe—something fun to cook in order to take my mind off of the cold grey outside and the fact that I threw all gluten out the window over a week ago. . .just to see if it could help an ailing GI tract and shed this weight that seems to have hunkered down for the duration (more on that later).

Not looking for anything to do with pears, or fruit for that matter, a recipe jumped out at me concerning the poaching of pears in a delicious sounding concoction of sugar, spices and water.
Hummm.
Never being one to poach my fruit nor believing in any sort of dessert other than that of chocolate and cream, I was a bit intrigued. I figured I could poach a couple of pears and have them as part of a salad.

Heading to the store, I purchased 4 organic (of course) Bosc pears. You know, the pretty pears which are beautifully shaped, well, like a pear.

The recipe called for 8 pears but in a household of two, I opted on 4 pears, yet I still used the full recipe of poaching liquid which worked out perfectly.

Interested yet?
I thought you’d never ask. . .

You’ll need 4 to 8 Bosc pears (they hold their shape the best)
2 cups sugar ( I know it sounds excessive but it’s just a part of the “bath”)
8 cups water—however I used 2 cups of leftover champagne I had sitting in the fridge since New Year’s Eve along with 6 cups of water. You could use some white wine if you’d like. . .
1 Vanilla bean split
1/2 a lemon –I used a Meyer lemon
a small handful of whole cloves about 8 or so
1 cinnamon stick or 2 if you’re feeling adventuresome
1 star anise— since I didn’t have that, I used about 1/4 teaspoon of anise seed– oh so judiciously as I’m not into licorice.
And wishing I had thought to throw in a cardamon pod or three

Put all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil, immediately dropping down to a low simmer—
mmmmmmm can’t you smell that warm spicy aroma now just filling your kitchen??

In the meanwhile, peel your pears.

Slice them in half and using a teaspoon, gently scoop out the seeds.
Once the sugar has dissolved, put the pears gently in the “bath”–cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the pears are soft (test by gently poking with the tip of a knife)

Once the pears are soft and your house smells heavenly, remove the pot from the heat and allow the pears to cool in their bath.
At this point you can put the whole pot in the fridge, allowing the pears to rest in the “broth” chilling nicely. Sampling with a small spoon of the “bath water” I decided I could drink the whole pot.

What I did with my pears was to make a salad.
I tore up some romaine lettuce (the kind Dad does not consider real lettuce), placing it on a salad plate.
I next sprinkled some blue cheese crumbles (you can use Gorgonzola) over the lettuce and drizzled blue cheese dressing over the salad in training. I then placed a single pear half on the bed of lettuce. You can certainly slice it in half if you prefer.
I put a small dollop of mascarpone cheese in the center of the pear (you could use cream cheese or blue cheese), sprinkled a few sugared walnuts around, finally drizzling the remainder of the apple cider sugar glaze I used for the walnuts, over the pear and lettuce.
Voila—the new 21st century pear salad

Oh here’s what I did to the walnuts. . .
In a small sauce pan I put in about a 1/2 cup of sugar. I turned the heat up to med-high, watching it like a hawk so it wouldn’t burn, get away from me and set the house on fire.
As the sugar began to melt, turning to a liquid, I used a small wooden spoon to stir it.
Just as soon as the sugar melted, I slowly poured about a 1/4 cup of apple cider in the pan, continually stirring as the sugar now wanted to clump and harden back up. I continued stirring allowing my mixture to boil, adding about a TBL or two of Maple syrup. I allowed this to boil down, reducing into a thick syrup, at which point I dropped in a handful of walnuts ( 3/4 to 1 cup)—allowing them to get a good coating of the syrup.
Next I poured the syrupy nuts onto a dry plate allowing them to cool.
I then placed them willy nilly on the salad, drizzling the pear and salad with the remaining syrup. . .
Absolutely divine–light, refreshing and oh so tasty

DSC00166

DSC00165

DSC00163

DSC00168

DSC00173

DSC00175

DSC00177

Oh–and by the way—does anyone know how they got those pears in those liqueur bottles???

The power of Chocolate

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

DSC00036
(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.

Resolutions

When you rise in the morning, form a resolution to make the day a happy one for a fellow creature.”
― Sydney Smith

DSCN3118

Ok, so I originally wrote today’s post wising to discuss my new healthy purchase. I veered off the subject as usual, verging on a rant regarding our Society’s obsession with beauty, über health, thinness and of our obsessive fear of aging. Things got too wordy, albeit all correct, plus my intent has never for my little blog to be stage for ranting, although there is a great deal I could rant about–Now that being said, this sacred space is reserved for that of a retired Yoda’s musings—plus I was certainly not on topic with that of my new little blender–so he is now the abbreviated version.

I’m not one to make resolutions for the New Year. I just think that we should all try our best, each and every day, without needing some sort of mile marker pointing us in the right direction year after year–those “resolutions” are the things which should be determined each morning as we open our eyes—a daily sort of quest of determination to do right and do better by not only ourselves but our kinsmen as well. Isn’t that a novel concept.

And so it was on the Monday to the new week to the new year—no more sweets, no more fats, back to my little weight lifting regime, loose this excess of weight, get that elliptical machine for the basement, get healthy, get lean. . .hummm. . .
have I ever been lean?

Remember, I’ve got a wedding in June.
“Wedding?”
No silly, not my wedding, my son’s wedding.
“Ahhh, mother of the groom eh?”
Yes and I want to look nice and I want to be able to fit into a dress.
“But no one will be looking at you, they’ll be looking at the bride.”
So you say.
I’ve been to those weddings and you have too– as they escort the mothers in you turn and whisper to you friend, “She surly has aged. Wow she’s gained weight since the retirement. I don’t remember her being so grey. . .” and the litany goes on.

As I take stock of myself in the mirror, wondering what it is that I need do in order to get into “the mother of the groom” sort of shape, I’m noticing that I can no longer tell whether or not I have eye lids, my mouth has more lines around it than a road map and those things that are supposed to be up on my chest, the things that I think folks refer to as breasts, now seem in a position closer to my navel. Hummmm…

I suppose I should start with not only some exercise but perhaps a bit of monitoring of my diet.

DSCN3117
(Please note the word “fiber” in the lower left corner–NO MORE FIBER PLEASE!!!)

I’m certain it comes as no surprise to you that the new trendy super vegetable is Kale. Every time you open a current cooking magazine or search the web’s plethora of foodie sites the once humble green is now all the rage. This simple prolific winter crop of greens which has kept many an Irishman happy as he ate a hearty bowl of Colcannon is now the darling of health food. Funny how the lowly collard and turnip green, along with cousin kale, have taken the eating healthy stage by storm. I’ve been eating such for years—of course the southern style–simmered in chicken broth, a little hot sauce a piece of bacon, or for those hard core southerners, fat back. That my friend is the South on a plate.

Not to be left out of the latest food craze I too have fresh kale on hand. But as far as those kale salads and kale chips are concerned, I’m good. I’ll stick to my spinach and mesclun lettuce for salad and the only chip, as far as I’m concerned, is a potato. I don’t buy potato chips, as I do try to watch what I put in my mouth, I at least know where they are if I need them–right there on the chip aisle–not the kale chip aisle.

Everyone is screaming for kale and I’m still in wonderment over my butter making jar. Now that’s something truly special—butter. And I say all of this as I type under the watchful eye of the placard hanging in my kitchen— “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream” Those immortally wise words of Julia Child.

But let’s get to my point shall we—I bought a Bullet.
A what you ask?
I had not heard of it either but it seems to be a most popular little device.

What started this new little move to health was actually founded in a bit of guilty indulgence. Monday, I decided that I would make chocolate pudding. My poor husband has felt quite deprived since the new year’s healthiness began. Pudding would be okay. But then I saw a fun recipe by the pioneering red head, Ree Drummond for Pots de Creme, which sounded quick and easy. Put the chocolate chips in a blender along with eggs, grind, then add the hot coffee. I did as instructed and as the chips began “grinding” , suddenly my very nice Kitchen Aid blender stopped. I thought the chips were stuck to the blade–but as luck would have it, the chips killed the blender. Who knew?!

DSCN3106

DSCN3107

Obviously I had to get a new blender. It was suggested that I try a NurtiBullet, as in a magic bullet to health, which will enable me to make those wonderful healthy smoothies which are now all the rage. Really? I want to do that? Who says I want to do that? Blenders are for fun little cocktails, and the blending of the bases of various soups. . . milkshakes, yes, smoothies, ok—but what’s this healthy business?

I proudly bring my new Bullet in the house and unpack it. Looks easy enough. It’s smaller than a traditional blender and it even has a nice little recipe book.

As it is lunch time and I am a tad hungry, I immediately pack the blender cup with the suggested items–peaches, blueberries and kale, filling it with water. I used frozen peaches and blueberries hoping to eliminate the need for ice as I don’t like a smoothie full of hunks of ice. Pop that puppy up on the base, plug it in, and ZIP—within seconds a beautifully deep purple, dotted with little specks of green, smoothie. “This looks really good,” I’m thinking as I bring the cup to my lips. Big sip. . .
AAAGGGHHHHHHHH—eeeoooo, gag–cough, cough

Oh my Lord, I’m drinking grass! All I can taste is the raw kale–no sweet peaches, no tangy blueberries. Honey, I know, it needs some honey!!
Let’s just say that honey will not blend into something very cold, it stays a clumpy cold mass–so now I have a cup full of purple raw greens with a wad of honey hiding within.

Ok, I do see some potential here, but I’ve got to think this through— rather than just throwing any healthy thing in a cup thinking I can blend it up into a palatable concoction, there must be balance. Back to the grocery store I go. More fruits. Some Greek yogurt, some frozen yogurt, add some dashes of perhaps protein powder, this new rage of flax seed meal, some chai and gogi crap. I can do this.

DSCN3108

I am now armed with an arsenal of “additives”–all in the name of health. Do you know what excessive fiber can do to your system if you are not use to such. Let’s just say it’s not pretty nor comfortable as a smoothie is pretty much cold raw fiber in a cup. And this is what I wanted?? Hummm

Now on day 3 it’s gotten a tad better. Peaches, strawberries, a banana for texture and potassium, some Greek yogurt, a little coconut milk, cinnamon, a tad of honey—ZIP again, voila, pretty smoothie and one that is much more palatable. Next, blackberries, frozen peaches, pineapples, frozen yogurt, cinnamon, almond milk and a sprinkling of Qia—What in the heck is Qia?? Some sort of magical mix of super seeds—ZIP it up again and I now have a pretty crunchy smoothie. Hummm—I don’t like the seeds, I doubt my intestines like the seeds. No more seeds
At least however, there are possibilities. It’s easy to use and clean–I can give it a try for a while. I wonder if the yogurt, peaches and almond milk would enjoy a shot of Amaretto? I think I would. Oh, this is breakfast, I forgot, nix the alcohol.

DSCN3109

This will definitely take some playing around with in order to appreciate the full potential–ratios and combinations are certainly coming into play. And yet, I’m still drawn back to the pudding. So much smoother–such a wonderful feel in the mouth–none of this stick in the teeth seed business. Chocolate and creme–a thing of beauty in the mouth–and what’s more these two would appreciate a shot of Amaretto, Rum, Bourbon, you name it!!
Oh what would Julia say?

The moral of this tale—make no big yearly resolutions, simply tell yourself each morning that you will make good daily choices for yourself and others— while always making room for a little added pudding.
Now I’m thinking I may just go back to my fig newtons for lunch–figs and whole grains—now that sounds healthy!