Show us the way oh Lord. . .

“Others have seen what is and asked why.
I have seen what could be and asked why not. ”

― Pablo Picasso

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(a statue of Christ on the Charles Bridge , Prague, The Czech Republic / Julie Cook / 2012)

What is it that sets us apart form the other creatures on this planet our ours?
Other than that opposable thumb business?

What is it that makes us greater, wiser, better. . .?

Is it perhaps our ability to be compassionate and kind?
Perhaps to reason and analyze?
Or is it is our capacity to be creative. . .that ability to dream, to imagine, to think and therefore to compose, to construct, to paint, to sing, to sculpt, to dance and to build. . .

The ability to even take that which has been ruined and destroyed, even by our own hands, and to remake, rekindle and renew. . .?

I had not intended to have such a serious minded post again this week but it appears that forces beyond my control thought better of my initial decision. . .

Today’s news is laced, once again with the heinous beheading by ISIS of another innocent bystander–another victim to their ravenous thirst for innocent blood. This time it was an 82 year old Archeologist taxed with preserving and saving the ruins of Palmyra.
It seems they held this gentleman for the past month, torturing him in an attempt to discover where the vast treasures of this ancient, and to some holy, site were hidden. He never shared that information with his captors, who knows if he even was aware of hidden treasure, so it was another case of “off with their heads”. . .

Here you may find a link to the full story as found on the BBC . . .
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33984006

In Charles Kaiser’s book “The Cost of Courage” which I shared in yesterday’s post, Mr. Kaiser retells the story of the Vichy Parisian Mayor, Pierre-Charles Taittinger who, following the invasion of Normandy which was the telling realization for the Nazis that their time of Occupation in Paris, as well as all of France, was drawing dangerously to its finale, approached the Nazi’s high commander, General Choltitz, with his final plea for the Germans to spare the city.

It was well known and documented that if Hitler had to relinquish the City of Lights back into the hands of the Allies, then they would not receive a city at all but rather one that had been razed and burnt to the ground. Every bridge crossing the Seine, as well as every monument from the Eiffel Tower to Napoleon’s Tomb had been wired with explosives. The fleeing German troops were to detonate and burn everything in their wake as they left the city.

Monsieur Taittinger implored the General one last time:
“Often it is given to a general to destroy, rarely to preserve,” Taittinger begins.
“Imagine that one day it may be given to you to stand on this balcony as a tourist, to look once more on these monuments to our joys, our sufferings, and to be able to say, “One day I could have destroyed all this, and I preserved it as a gift for humanity.’ General, is not that worth all a conqueror’s glory?”
The General replied, “You are a good advocate for Pairs. You have done your duty well. And likewise I, as a German general, must do mine.”

History tells us that the General was wise enough to know that by now Hitler was indeed a madman and that the war, with the Soviets now advancing from the east, was all but over and that it would not serve the furture of Germany, whatever that further may now hold, to destroy what the French held so dear. There is more to the story, a series of interventions and seemingly miraculous moments which spurred the Allied forces to march upon the city in the nick of time, but I suggest that you read that story on your own as it makes for fascinating reading.

When the church bells rang out echoing across the city, with the deep baritone bells of Notre Dame leading the way, sounding the joyful news of the liberation of Paris, the General was heard to say, “that today I have heard the bells of the death knell of my own funeral. . .” He had sent the troops out from the city with having detonated only the bombs of one of the train stations.

What is it about our splendors and our glories, those monuments we construct, build, make and craft from generation to generation. . . those tombs and treasures we hold so dear and so ever important? So much so that we feel the urgency and need of being tasked with their care, their maintenance, their upkeep and their eventual preservation?
Is it because we see that these manmade wonders are some of the tangible evidence of the better part of our nature? That despite our ability to destroy, to kill and to promote war. . .deep down we know that we strive for the good, the beautiful and the enduring?

These wonders of ours link us to our past civilizations. These monuments of glory, grandeur and beauty of both joy and sorrow allow us to see from where we have come, and in turn we are afforded the opportunity to show future generations the part of us which is better, kinder, gentler, more humane —that side which chose to give rather than to take?

So on this day, when another has fallen victim to a dark and evil menace spreading outward from the Middle East, I am left with the simple prayer, “Oh Lord, show us the way. . .”

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(Duomo di Milano / Milan, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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(The Bascillica di San Antonio / Padova, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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(Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore / Firenze, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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(Basilica Papale di San Francesco / Assisi, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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( Basilica Papale di San Pietro / The Vatican / Roma, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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(stain glass windows in The Basilica of the Holy Blood / Bruges, Belgium / Julie Cook / 2011)

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(Notre Dame / Paris France / Julie Cook / 2011)

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(détail, Notre Dame / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

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(Eiffel Tower / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

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(the cross that sits atop the Eagles Nest or the Berghof overlooking Berchtesgaden, Bavaria which was once Hitler’s private mountain retreat / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(St Stephens Cathedral/ Vienna, Austria / Julie Cook / 2013)

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St Vitus Cathedral / Prague, The Czech Republic / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(Rose window, St Vitus Cathedral / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(A section of the Berlin Wall / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(a section of the Berlin wall / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(The Brandenburg Gate / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(The interior of the new German Chancellory, the Bundestag / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

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Exterior of the Bundestag / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

and the Angels rejoiced

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”
― George MacDonald

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(the closeup of a gorgeous heirloom pumpkin, pieces of God’s marvelous creative talents / Julie Cook / 2014)

And on the first day, when God went about the task of creating Creation,
The Angels rejoiced.
God waved His hand, suddenly appearing out of the nothingness, there shone a great Light.
The Angels rejoiced.
He raised His head both up and down establishing a vast sky above and an open landscape below.
The Angels rejoiced.
He shed a single tear and immediately vast oceans, seas and waterways filled the landscape.
The Angels rejoiced.
He blew the dust from His hand, which in turn set the stars and the planets in motion, sending them dancing across the heavens.
The Angels rejoiced.
He formed both sun for day and moon for night.
The Angels rejoiced.
He placed his hands on the landscape and pulled his fingers across the surface, all manner of plant and tree sprouted forth from His very touch.
The Angels rejoiced.
He opened up his hand and from his palm poured animals, reptiles, insects and birds of every size, shape and color.
The Angels rejoiced.
He took handfuls of the mud which covered the landscape. The mud was full of the water, bits of the land–it was full of the plants, leaves, pollen, seeds and straw, as well as the dung and droppings of all the animals, reptiles, birds and insects.
He began pushing and pulling the mud, mixed with all the bits and pieces of His new Creation, through His strong yet tender hands.
He smiled contently as He felt the warm, soft, wet mud move and squish through His fingers.
He worked steadily but thoughtfully.
He shaped the muddy mix and moulded it until it was just right.
And there in the palm of His massive hand rested אֲדָמָה, adamah, Adam.
and for now, the Angels Rejoiced.
But God was not finished.
There, in the center of the first Light, the true Light of Light, from the very God of the very God, lay a tiny piece of God’s heart. It beat in unison with God’s heartbeat yet is stayed perfectly suspended in the center of the true Light.
For God knew that Adam was a product of both light and dark.
There would be a time that Adam and his people would prefer life in the darkness.
God knew that in order to bring Adam and his people back to the true Light, He would have to provide Adam and his people with the small beating piece of God’s own heart.
And God proclaimed “I will be his father, and he will be my son (2 Samuel 7:14)
And the Angels Rejoiced.

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(closeup images of gorgeous heirloom pumpkins, pieces of God’s marvelous creative talents / Julie Cook / 2014)

Twisted

And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren’t any other people living in the world.
Anne Frank

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(one of cookie’s pumpkins / Julie Cook / 2013)

When I was still in the classroom and it was time for me to introduce our ceramic, better known as clay, unit, I’d first demonstrate how best to “wedge” the clay. Simply put, that’s the process of working out the tiny air pockets that get caught in a ball of clay. If the air bubbles are allowed to stay in the clay, as it’s being formed, there is a very good chance that the final piece being fired in the kiln would either severely crack, or worse, explode. When trapped air is heated it expands, and in the case of the clay, the expansion is obviously outward… causing catastrophic results for a pot being fired.

Wedging the clay is very similar to the kneading of bread. While I was in college, my ceramics instructor was a visiting professor from the University of Tennessee. This particular professor had been trained in the traditionally rich Asian ceramic school of study and he in turn taught us similar based techniques. One of those techniques was a particular way to wedge the clay— the Japanese Spiral Technique.

This particular technique allowed one to work the clay from the inside out… manipulating the clay and hands, twisting and rolling, working the clay into a spiraled ball. Pretty much guaranteeing that the air pockets were worked out of the clay. One piece of clay full of the air pockets, being fired in a loaded kiln, put everyone’s piece in jeopardy. If one piece “blew up” —it could possibly damage any piece sitting in close proximity—resulting in very unhappy students. Wedging was stressed to the utmost.

So when I read today’s quote by Anne Frank, about twisting her heart round, so that the bad is on the outside and the good on the inside, I couldn’t help but think of wedging and of the Japanese Spiral Technique. How nice it would be if it were so easy to twist our bad out from deep down, twisting it outward pulling the good inward toward our soul. Simply sloughing off the bad and being full of the good.

She speaks of trying to become the person who she would like to be, the person she could be–whether anyone else existed or not. Anne was between 13 to 15 years old when she wrote those words. She was suppose to have had a lifetime ahead of the her to work on becoming that very special person she sought to be.

I am almost 54 years old—I have been privileged to have that lifetime that was stolen from Anne. I am still not that person that I wish to be. There has always been a part of me that yearned to be like one of the Desert Fathers, or in my case, Mothers—being one who sought solitude away from society allowing myself to focus solely on my relationship to and with God. No worldly distraction.

How I so often push my time with God to the wayside as something else just seems so much more pressing….trivial things. I sadly allow the here and now to overshadow the Divine….
“I’ll get to it in a minute. I’ll read the day’s Divine Office in a minute, after I put the wash in the dryer, after I feed the cats, after I make the bed, after I take my shower, after I post the day’s blog, after I answer the phone, when I get back from the store, when I get back from Dad’s, after I start supper, after I do the dishes…once I put my head to my pillow…..tomorrow, I will do it tomorrow….”

Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws (Psalm 119:164 NIV) But I don’t do that. Why don’t I do that? We are told we should do that. Seven times a day…

To learn the perfection of prayer and worship. To go deep within to that inner sanctum where there is that piece of the Divine–so deep in my very core that I am not even aware that it is there. It is in this deep core sanctuary where the Holy Spirit resides waiting for me to go within to commune with the Divine.

And yet there is the desire to serve….service to others. To demonstrate the Divine by offering kindness, compassion, help, comfort, nourishment, shelter…a ministry of aid and compassion, of doing…

Have I done enough? No. I don’t think so. I know not. There is still so much to do. Just turn on the news—there is so much that needs to be done for this humanity of ours.

Prayers for the school’s this week who witnessed the senseless loss of life in the throws of, once again, needless violence.
Prayers for Sparks Middle School in Nevada and prayers for Danvers High School in Massachusetts.
Prayers for the teachers, the students and the families who now ask those painful questions of why.
Prayers for our Nation as our allies today now question our “friendship” and find that our trust has been broken.
Prayers for the skewed beliefs and of our extreme obsession with materialism, or our obsession over Hollywood and sensationalism media, for those who we look to as role models who cannot even lead themselves, for and what both Blessed Mother Teresa and John Paul II called our culture of Death……

No, I am not done—much twisting, wedging and woking remains of the moving out the bad to move in the good. Just like the potter, I need to work the clay of my heart. Wedging a little more until it is right.

What to do with all those acorns…

Many people are struggling because they have not used what God has given them. God gives you an acorn; you invest it and it will become a tree! Stop praying for trees while acorns are lying all over the ground. God answered your prayer for the tree when He sent you the acorn. Your creative ideas are acorns from which mighty trees emerge. Your talent is given to you to be multiplied.
TD Jakes

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There are three oak trees in our yard–two of great prominence to our house–as we built the house so that the trees would be able to grow and thrive without being impeded by the building of and eventual existing of the house. They in turn showcase our home beautifully.

We almost lost one, a couple of years back, to a tornado. It now has a bit of a distinct lean—not a deadly lean nor a lean noticeable to the causal observer—just enough for us to know things are slightly skewed. The other one, we fear has a leaf blight that will eventually take the tree. Sadly it appears as if the one in the back of the house may also have the blight. I am so sad as I love these trees. I feel as if they are reflections of our home and our lives. I can’t imagine having them removed.

I continue hoping and praying that they, particularly the large one out front, will make it. We have a picture of our then 11 year old son by the tree when we had first bought the property. He’s standing out in what was a pasture spotted with a couple of young oak trees. He and the oak trees are but young saplings. Our son will turn 25 in December. The tree, I could’t say, I just hope that, as our son, who is soon to marry and will eventually start a family of his own, the tree will be here for future grandchildren to pose beneath….

We tend to mark the important events of our own lives by the trees privy enough to be around us. My husband and I visited Portsmouth, New Hampshire a few summers back. We went on a lovely walking tour of this quaint historic seaport colonial city. Upon stopping outside of the Moffat-Ladd home we noted a huge towering tree.

The story is that William Whipple, then resident of the home and New Hampshire’s signer of the Declaration of Independence, had brought back from his trip to Philadelphia a young Horse Chestnut sapling. He planted the young tree in the yard of the home as a reminder of his participation in such a historic event. He wanted Portsmouth to have a tangible link and a constant reminder of the role the city once played in the quest for freedom. The tree, which now towers over the house and is thriving to this day, is a long lasting snapshot of a once very young nation.

Yes trees are such important sentinels to our very lives. I think of the giant redwoods on the West coast of this country who were but young strong growing trees at the same time a young man, who on a different continent, walked the barren lands of Galilee calling out for followers.

I think of what these trees witness, what they protect, what they provide for us, what they mean to us—and yet, sadly, we have not always been kind to their existence or very good stewards to their survival. I’d like to think we live in a symbiotic relationship with trees–unfortunately however,I think it is only to our benefit that this relationship exists—the trees would do fine without us—perhaps that makes us a bit parasitic….

So on this beautiful Saturday morning of a beautiful Autumn weekend, I hope you will have an opportunity to wander outside under and beneath the trees of your life—be they in your yard, in you community or out in this great big country of ours—be thankful and grateful for their existence as they provide so much more for you than you can ever provide for them…..

“Knock, knock, knocking on Heaven’s door”

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“I can be jubilant one moment and pensive the next, and a cloud could go by and make that happen.”
Bob Dylan

Photograph mine, quote and lyrics Bob Dylan’s…..and that’s exactly how I feel when I fly through the clouds (in a plane mind you)—a magical situation to be on the upside of the clouds…I’ve never been one to wish I could fly but to be able to get up and walk on clouds—that would be a quiet yet wonderful adventure, don’t you think?

Grey dark clouds can pass overhead and yes, I too can become pensive, aggravated, depressed, or relieved..it all depends on whatever is going on in my life at the time down on the ground under the clouds…but being able to fly up through them, being perched on top of them, looking down, just imagining I could just stop the plane stepping out onto that pillowy top—now that is truly a magical thought.

I wonder if it is human nature to want to go upwards…a primal desire to seek our Creator upwards, heavenwards…? If I go far enough will I find Him waiting for me? Perhaps it is an innate longing and desire to be with God, by His side, in His presence. And I suppose it is my yearning and desire to indeed go seeking after Him. And it is through and on top of those very clouds where I feel I should start.

Oh I know that I can sit in the middle of a virgin wood forest, or on a rocky cliff over looking a churning sea and I know that He is there. I knew I saw Him when the baby fawn gingerly hopped through our yard. I saw Him the day our son was born. I saw Him as my mom died…..

….but the clouds— up in those giant white billowy puffs—-somewhere up there I know He is there—
I will always look upwards—what about you?

Cooking and Creativity vs Baking and Chemistry

Some of you reading my posts may have noticed that I have a category for “Cooking/Creativity”.   Whereas these two activities are indeed separate, in my world they are as intertwined as kudzu and the South.  Many folks most likely equate Creativity with the Arts—the Visual Arts in particular.  And yes, there is certainly truth to that.  An artist may take, for example, a canvas, tubes of paints and  a small army of brushes—mix in a little water and light as needed, along with a little of this and a little of that  for effect and…. voila, a beautiful image emerges for all to view and enjoy.

Cooking is very much along the same principle.  A cook/chef takes a few pots and pans, some fresh (or even frozen) ingredients—mix in varying portions of liquids, oils, heat , a little of this spice and a little of that herb and…. voila, a beautiful plate that pleases not only eye but palate as well.  And oh how I find so much pleasure in both pursuits but if the truth be known, it is the latter that truly quenches my soul.

After spending upwards of 10 or more hours a day at school, I found it almost necessary to come home and cook supper.  My kind husband would constantly tell me that I could/ should just keep things simple, maybe just a sandwich or we could even go out to grab a bite if I was too tired…. I wouldn’t hear of it!  Especially after the most stressful of days.  Being allowed to come home to my kitchen was a welcomed relief.  It was in my kitchen where I could simply immerse myself in the thoughts of the day, sorting out mistakes, miscues or relish in the small victories all the while as I would start whatever it was going to be for supper.

From cornish hens with a glistening, translucent amber orange marmalade glaze or to the magic wonder of fish or chicken en papillote accompanied by an orchestra of fresh vegetables and herbs  —it was here that I found my zeal for the “creative.”

Many years ago when my mom was in ICU battling cancer ,and I was a newly married young woman, I would go each day to the ICU Waiting Room carrying an arm load of cook books–upwards of 8 at a time.  As I would sit for hours waiting for the  three 15 minute times of visitation allowed in a 24 hour period, I would read page per page , cover to cover of every type of recipe and cookbook imaginable. It was my therapy and my catharsis.  Maybe I needed to know that in the dark shadows of death, where I had found myself in vigil for my mom, Creativity, which I equate with life and living, was still very much present and attainable.

But what about baking you ask.  I once read that if one fancies oneself as more of a cook then that just means that one tends to be more “creative”.  If one fancies oneself as more of a baker, one tends to be more “scientific”.  I find that a pretty good analogy–or actually description of the two.  The baker needs precision and must rely on the chemistry of ingredients to make the “magic”.  The perfect blend of baking powder and or soda, along with fats, sugars, yeast, water and heat–there is indeed true magic that takes place.  From the rising or proofing of bread to the final baking.  Heavenly aromas arise from one’s oven when making yeast breads from scratch.  It may sound simple and easy—trust me, it is anything but!!

It is in that baking process where I do struggle….as my personality is not patient enough for baking.  That whole mixing, kneading, waiting, punching, kneading a little more, waiting, rising, rolling, baking…..you get the point.  Part of my plan during this retirement has been to perfect ( I use that term oh so loosely) the making of various breads from scratch.  I will do a post on the cinnamon rolls at a later date…today, however, I need something that I can count on as a success and not as a wing and a prayer.

I will leave you today with a recipe for an oldie but goodie  simple desert.  Some may think this more of a fall or even winter desert.  I find it is perfect year round.  I was at the grocery store earlier where I found fresh Meyer Lemons.  Large and full of juice– they looked almost like  oranges–as their peel has a beautiful yellow/ orange warm yet bright hue.  And the fragrance is not to be denied let alone the flavor!!!!!!  If you have never tried a Meyer lemon—there will be no going back once you do….this particular desert is traditionally served with a lemon sauce, or glaze or even lemon curd.  It is taken from the Joy of Baking.  The Joy of Cooking was probably the very first cookbook I received, even while I was still in college.

I hope you will enjoy this simple yet flavor satisfying Ginger cake… as I certainly will later this evening.

Gingerbread Cake:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven.  Butter and flour a 9 inch (23 cm) round or square cake pan with 2 inch (5 cm) sides. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

In bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the lemon zest and molasses and beat to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the dry ingredients and milk, alternately, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat just until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula.  Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing cake from pan.  Let cool completely and then, if desired, frost with the Lemon Icing.

Lemon Icing:  Mix together the sifted confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth.  (The icing should be thick but still spreadable.)  Pour the icing onto the center of the cake and spread with an offset spatula.  Some of the icing will drip down the sides of the cake. 

This cake will keep for several days at room temperature.   Can serve with softly whipped cream, lemon curd, or slices of apples sauteed in a little butter and sugar.

Makes one – 9 inch (23 cm) cake

Gingerbread Cake:

2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour

1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup 113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup (105 grams) light brown sugar

2 large eggs

Zest of 1 lemon (outer yellow skin of lemon)

1/2 cup (120 ml) unsulphured molasses (To prevent the molasses from sticking to the measuring cup, first spray the cup with a non stick vegetable spray.)

1 cup (240 ml) milk

Lemon Icing: (Optional)

1 1/2 cups (150 grams) sifted confectioners’ (powdered or icing) sugar

2 – 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice