the bittersweet

“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy
are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but
to mature and transfigure us.”

― Hermann Hesse

“Our sweetest songs are those of saddest thought.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley


(image of the bittersweet herb Rue as seen on an herbal supplement site)

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint,
rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.
You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Luke 14:42

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, there are numerous references to
both plants and herbs.
With each, along with salt, having been seen as taxable commodities.

Since these were items that were sold, traded and bartered,
and whereas people were making money from the sales of such items,
officials naturally wanted to impose a tax.

And with such an early example of something so simple being taxed,
is it any wonder that something like tea, which would lead to a
rebellious bunch of colonists tossing crates of such leaves into a harbor, be of
any surprise…

And since both plants and herbs were playing such a pivotal role in early commerce
we began to divide them into categories…
with both sweet and bitter being the frontrunners in the categories of taste, use,
perception and enjoyment.

Enter the Passover seder with it’s mix of bitter herbs
And they shall eat flesh in that night, roast with fire,
and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

Exodus 12:8

Or the admonishment of self restraint and to approach things with moderation….
A sated man loathes honey,
But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet.

Proverbs 27:7

So all of this talk of herbs and bitter and sweet came flooding in yesterday…
not because of Seders, or cooking, or bartering, or taxes or planting or even quiet reflective Biblical readings..
It actually came about as I busied myself getting ready for of all things…
to take a baby shower on the road.

For you see this is the first big family event that is taking place
without well, family.

We’re having a big baby shower in Atlanta for my son and daughter-n-law this weekend
and I’m the one putting this little shindig together.
There will be about 60 friends and family, old and young, near and far who will
come help them, as well as the grandparents to be, celebrate…

It will be there at what was Dad’s house…with what was once my childhood room now becoming a nursery.

Usually when I do these sorts of events, my trusted helper is and always has been,
right by my side—that being Aunt Maaaatha (aka Martha).

She would have flown up earlier this week, coming with her sleeves rolled up,
ready to jump in with both feet as we’d cook, prepare, buy, shlep,
and haul things here, there and yon.

And whereas I’ve been busy making plans, making orders, purchasing,
cooking and packing everything up… getting ready to transport
things to the big city, I can’t help but feel that tinge of bittersweetness.

What has always been a team effort is now a solo event…
Each time I stop long enough to take a breath, I am a bit haunted by what’s missing.

My dad’s only remaining cousin, who at 92 is the oldest and last living member
of that clan, will be making the trip.
My aunt, my dad’s sister-n-law, who is also 92, will join us as well.
As the top tier of the family now prepare to welcome the newest forthcoming member.

Yet knowing who won’t be with us physically at this party has left me a bit wistful.
But whereas I know there will be those who will not be with us physically,
I do know they will there in spirit.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

Come thou long expected….

So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear
a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly
waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:28


(Cross outside Drumcliffe Parish Church, County Sligo, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Our son, daughter-n-law and grand dog have all come to stay with us as a good
portion of Atlanta has been in the dark since Irma’s visit.

Atlanta is the type of city where they say a squirrel never has to touch the ground.
The trees are old and plentiful…which is such a huge part of the city’s charm and beauty, but is also a grave trouble during storms…
be it hurricanes, tornados or ice storms.

A tree fell on a neighboring street, taking out a transformer and so therefore we
now have company.

As I was busy in the kitchen last evening, I caught a bit of an interview with Bill
Bennett, otherwise known as Willian Bennett, the former Secretary of Education under
President Ronald Reagan.

I’ve always enjoyed Mr. Bennett’s sound wisdom.

Mr. Bennett was being asked about the growing violence currently coming from
the group Antifa…
A radicalized anarchist styled militant group that favors violence over anything
else as they claim to be fighting against fascism—
Yet the troubling issue at hand is that this group has decided the sitting
President of the United States is just such a person of just such a group and he,
as well as anyone who voted for him needs to be violently taken out….

Bennett notes that there is a growing and troubling support base for Antifa
now coming from a wide range of folks…
with post secondary educators being right in the middle of the mix.
While the latest vocal support is actually coming out of schools such
as Dartmouth college.

It seems this upper crust Ivy League school had a professor who had written a very
public letter expressing his support for Antifa, endorsing their violent tactics.
Dartmouth’s president in turn wrote a letter denouncing any such sweeping
support coming from his school for such groups as Antifa.

This in turn lead to a letter being signed by 100 faculty members who
expressed their support for not their College President but rather for Antifa
and the supporting professor.

And these are the very people educating our youth!!

Dejected, I turned my attention back to the dishes…
lost under the burden of thought.

Suddenly out of the blue I hear a long forgotten familiar tune…
and I’m the one humming it….

Come thou long expected Jesus….

Come, O Long-Expected Jesus
By: Charles Wesley

Come, O long-expected Jesus,
Born to set your people free;
From our fears and sins release us
By your death on Calvary.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope to all the earth impart,
dear desire of ev’ry nation,
Joy of ev’ry longing heart.

Born your people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a king;
Born to reign in us forever,
Now your gracious kingdom bring.
By your own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By your all-sufficient merit
Raise us to your glorious throne.

http://video.foxnews.com/v/5574320618001/?playlist_id=5410209611001#sp=show-clips

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

Quick get the umbrellas. . .cause when it rains. . .it pours!

“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle.
I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”

Mother Teresa

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.
Thomas Paine

DSC02334
(buckeye butterfly wandered into the garage away from the scorching heat / Julie Cook / 2015)

When I was younger, I did not always bear up very well under the heavy stifling blanket of turmoil, tragedy, stress or disaster.
My reactions often immature, unbridled, angry, resentful, beaten and lost.
I have come to learn, albeit it often reluctantly, that it is from the exposure of such catastrophes, coupled with the passage of time, which all act as an abrasive agent to toughen the thin skin of youthful emotions and tender feelings.

Tenacity is forged in the fire of trial, tribulation and misfortune.

I don’t think any of us is ever immune from such.
Everyone, at some point or other during one’s lifetime, will find themselves faced with, what at first may seem insurmountable, yet once the dust settles and the options weighed, becomes one more link in the chainmail of life’s armor.

A personal world is turned upside down most often by forces unforeseeable and unpreventable and as random as they come.
We will find ourselves asking the angry and accusatory questions of “why” and “how” while a balled up fist waves defiantly at an unseen God.

I wish we could all just hide under a rock someplace. . .a place faraway and immune from tragedy and the often cruel events of life—yet sadly there is no such safe haven in which to run and hide.

And yet it is my faith in that unseen God, the God of all creation and time, the One who I know to be far bigger and greater than any trial or tragedy in my life, the One who bears my burdens and sustains me in the palm of His hand— It is through Him, coupled by my faith in Him, that allows me to put one foot in front of the other and continue trudging through this thing we call life. . .

And please note that I did not say that that faith and belief or even that God himself makes the pain, the sorrow, the struggle, the suffering any bit easier—it does however, make it bearable.

Therefore if you should see a woman walking down the street carrying an open umbrella overhead when there is nary a cloud in the sky with zero chance of rain in the forecast. . .and not one who carries such to avoid exposure to the sun—just know that it is most likely me–as I am well aware that when it rains it pours.

“If you’re going through hell, {by all means} keep going.”
Winston Churchill

Please continue in your prayers for my daughter-n-law and her family as they slowly begin to feel their way in the dark as they determine what to do in the aftermath of the devastation of the fire which took their home.
As her grandfather tearfully lamented. . . “over 70 years of my life is now completely gone”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Bushwhackers, bare feet and a needed cure all

IMG_1400
(my son and his wife toast a first anniversary with a “bushwhacker” / FloraBama / Julie Cook / 2015

DSC01521
(the infamous FloraBama sign / the state line / Julie Cook /2015

This is a tale of a little bit of bad leading to a whole lot of good.
And no, I’m not talking about anything scandalous, risqué, illegal, unlawful or even sinful—just barely on the negative side of the whole moral radar.

I visited the Rivera this past weekend.
And no, it wasn’t that Rivera.

It’s a long story which started out several months ago when my husband, the one who doesn’t seem to check calendars, schedules or much of anything else when he blindly accepts an invitation for an outdoorsman’s dream adventure. In this instance, it was a deep sea fishing adventure that was actually an invitation extended to both my husband and son.

Now such an invitation would naturally be quickly chomped at and swallowed by both these two outdoor loving enthusiasts. . .
Trouble was that the weekend scheduled for the trip out to sea was the same weekend that marked a huge milestone in our family—-it was to be my son and daughter-n-law’s first year wedding anniversary.

Being the sentimental one that I am, I just didn’t see any good coming from a One Year Anniversary being spent apart—especially when it was by choice for a pleasure fishing trip verses say, deployment overseas, work, or catastrophic illness.
The long and short of all of that is that my husband relented in the fact that the two woman of the clan “would have” to now tag along.
Not to fish mind you, but to tag along to say, the beach.

My life as of late, as you all well know, has not exactly been my own.
Stress and worry simply do not do justice when describing life with Dad these days.
Getting away did not seem prudent, practical nor wise.
Guilt and anxiety actually dug deep.
Yet something buried way down in my psyche screamed GO! For Heaven’s sake, by all means GO, and don’t look back!!!!

Now this fishing trip was to set sail from an area known as the “RR” or in the immortal words of Kenny Chesney, “the Redneck Rivera”
Not being a fan of country music nor of things denoted “redneck,” this would not exactly be a place I’d jump to visit as I am one who prefers the subdued, the quiet, the classic and the serene.
When I think of Rivera, I think of sophistication, charm, elegance and “haute” this or that . . .
Throw the word “redneck” out front and suddenly the sound of dueling banjos streams through my brain.

Upon arrival, to our home away from home for the weekend–which by the way was a very nice and stylish condo perched on the beach with little to nothing having to do with “redneck”- the sound of some rather loud music, emanating obviously from a live band jamming out somewhere nearby, filled the air.

I had heard strange tales of a local establishment and of its most infamous concoction, a Bushwhacker, in the general vicinity of our stay.
A den of iniquity of sorts linked to all things college and debauchery is what I had imagined and as it turned out, my imagination wasn’t far off course. . .

IMG_1419
(a wooden clad honky tonk situated on the Alabama / Florida line–perched in-between high-rise condos and parking decks)

The FloraBama, circa 1975, is a mecca for that whole “party on the beach” mindset of the young and often dumb—With the clientele of this particular establishment being not all so young, yet all equally lacking in better judgement.

Never one to miss a famous local attraction, I was game for a little look see. . .as well as a sampling of the oh so famous beverage!
There is a reassuring picture of President Obama sipping a Bushwhacker when he once visited this “business” no doubt on some sort of campaign adventure—so my rationale being, what’s good for the President, must be good for me as well, right???”
What’s the harm in a little chocolate, coconut, frozen medley with a few other added ingredients, served up like soft serve in a disposable cup topped with a cherry? Harmless enough right??

Well I won’t bore you with the details.

I won’t belabor the exploits of the young men and middle to upper aged woman, I watched from afar, stumbling along the beach as I simply shook my head.
Nor shall I understand the site of the older woman dressed as purple and gold Mardi Gras bags of beads, hung over their shoulders by suspenders with feathery boas cascading from their heads, as they paraded along the beach–participating in some sort of odd contest. . .
I won’t bask in reliving the happy thoughts of spending countless hours simply bobbing up and down on my blue noodle just like a lost little cork adrift in the placid Gulf
(note—noodles are for kids and I’m not proud)
I mustn’t speak of my now extra crispy red skin despite having sprayed—yes it hurts.
I shan’t rattle on about all the lovely fish that were caught–very tasty.
I won’t relive the image of my jaw dropping and mouth hanging agape as I entered into this haven of indulgence as my two younger protégées were left wondering if I hadn’t just fallen off the proverbial turnip truck. My college days having long since passed.
I shan’t confess to going barefoot for two solid days, traipsing in and out of the ocean, the beach, the “entertainment establishment” for a few Royal Reds (aka the best shrimp on the Gulf) over and over.
I shan’t expound on how good a trip, albeit it quick, sans shoes, worries, cares, agendas. . .can be for the spirit and soul of the weary. . .

But I will gladly extol the tastiness of a bushwhacker. . .

And may we all remember that obviously what happens on the Redneck Rivera, stays on the Redneck Rivera. . .or so say the Mardi Gras ladies. . .