deviating with a touch of alchemy and a creative past…

“Whisky is liquid sunshine.”
George Bernard Shaw


(step 1 to clarified milk punch / Julie Cook / 2019)

I must beg to differ with Mr. Shaw’s quote…
Clarified milk punch is liquid sunshine, not the amber hue of whisky.
But more about that in a minute.

Ok, so I’m straying a bit from our normally well-worn Spiritual path…
And it is with good reason.

I’ve decided that sharing a bit of the creative will be a wonderful way for us to
clear our heads a tad.

Life has been so heavy as of late has it not?

Be it in our own small personal little corners of the world,
or be it in the greater world at large…life has indeed been heavy.

And just to be honest…I’m tired of all this constant state of heaviness.

Today is Oct. 22nd.

That day falls on the calendar of what would be the season of Fall, aka Autumn…
you choose.
It is the time of a waning sun, cooler temps and those oh so pretty leaves…
or so one would think.

Two weeks ago our car registered 102 degrees.
Two weeks ago it was still October.

We were not driving in some heat-ridden place like southern Arizona or southern Hell,
rather we were in what is considered “north Georgia.”

As in, we have been living in a perpetual state of drought-ridden, heat relentless misery
since May.

Fall leaves are falling…they are simply falling off after having first turned brown.

“They” tell us that if the rains, which have thankfully begun,
continue and if the temperatures start to become more seasonal,
we have hope of salvaging “Fall”…meaning we might have some
crisp cool color after all.

And so despite living in this perpetual state of the neverending heat of Hades…
aka Summer,
my thoughts are turning to Fall.

As in pulling out those moth-eaten sweaters, gathering colorful pots of mums and
stacking up those beautiful heirloom pumpkins.

Praying for a chill in the air so we can have a skip to our step!

My thoughts are also turning to warm and spicey.

So you’ve got to know that a retired art teacher, who has also been a consummate
hobby cook for most of her life would need to find something creative and
challenging for this time of year.

Enter the clarified milk punch.


(Gastro Obscura)

A couple of weeks back my husband and I had headed down to the beach for a
few days for some much needed R&R.
It was a late anniversary celebration.

One mid-afternoon we found ourselves sitting at the hotel’s Cuban inspired bar looking
for a bite to eat and perhaps a bit of added libation.

The bartender went over the drink menu with us and told us that one of the drinks
on the menu was no longer available…they were out.
It was called something like ‘Wheyt a minute’.
A play on the word whey…as in curds and whey…
the clear liquid that comes when the curds of the milk (the milkfat)
are separated and removed.

My cooking and concocting curiosity was suddenly piqued.

I was told that the bartender, who was the creative genius behind the drink,
would be working that night.

And so later that night, after we’d returned from dinner out,
I found myself wandering back into the bar in search of this mysterious mixologist.

The bar was busy and humming with a crowd of fun-filled folks—
many of whom had arrived in town for various beach backdropped weddings.

I squeezed myself in, way up to the beautiful wood-paneled bar flanked by shelves of
colorful bottles all filled with glistening hued liquids…
squeezing past the myriad of merrymakers and asking for the bartender by name who
I knew had a quiet yet unique creative flair.

I asked about his drink that was no longer available.

Over the rising crescendo of noise cast from the pretty merrymakers gathered
in and around the packed bar, the bartender who was obviously pleased that someone
actually was curious about his handiwork, explained that he makes a clarified milk punch
for each season.
The batch for summer was now spent and he was in the process of brewing the
winter’s warmer spicer batch.

He offered a brief rundown of how it comes about.
There was fruit, liquor, spices, milk…there was steeping, cooking, filtering,
separating…and there was waiting.

As in all good things…right?

He explained that the new batch wasn’t ready yet…it still needed to steep.
He’d be putting it on the menu the following week.
I sadly explained that we were heading home the following day.

Alas.

He told me to hang tight and he’d slip to the back and bring me a taste as soon as
he had a lull at the busy bar.

I patiently waited…as it turned out that the wait was well worth my time.

He made good on his word…

My new friend presented me with about 2 ounces of a cold, slightly cloudy,
yellow-tinged liquid that had been poured into a pretty crystal glass.

I took a sip…there was a hint of pineapple, warm spices like nutmeg,
a cream-like flavor albeit a clear liquid. It was chilled and satisfying,
smooth and easy. Inviting and cheerful.
Nothing I had ever tasted before.

My curiosity was now ramped up even more.
I told him I was going home to make my own.
He smiled.

(a thank you to my friend Sair at the Havana Beach Bar and Grill)

And so in turn, I have researched.

History takes the drink back to the early 1700 hundreds with one story dating back to the
1600 hundreds in England.

Those who frequent New Orleans are familiar with milk punches that look,
well, like milk.
We think of things like egg nog—rich, thick and creamy.

But it was this clarified version that held my curiosity.
Milk and clear seemed like an oxymoron.

Some are made with pineapple, others are made with lemons or oranges…
with both peels and juice.
Hence the curdling agent.

There are riffs with add-ins such as black or green tea, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, and anise.
There is rum, or cognac, or brandy, or port, or a little of each.
There is some sugar and there is boiled milk.

But using milk as just milk would be too easy…however making milk clear, well,
that would require some skill.

A clarified milk does not run the risk of going bad.
It doesn’t spoil.
The fat is removed.
It has no special needs such as refrigeration in order to keep it cool and good…
it doesn’t need to be quickly consumed before going bad.
It allows one to linger…like a cozy sweater-wearing, fire crackling evening…
delightfully lingering.

The story goes that when Charles Dickens died he had bottles of clarified
milk punch stored in his cellar.
100 years following his death, the bottled punch was still quite palatable.

After all of my “researching,” I’ve opted to go with a recipe that was the personal favorite
recipe of none other than Benjamin Franklin.


(NY Times)

The man who gave us the lightning rod, the postal service, libraries, bifocals,
not to mention helping to craft our democracy, has also offered us his recipe
for a clarified milk punch.

Step one, as pictured above, is simply a mix of 3 cups each of rum and cognac along with
the peels of, count them, 11 lemons!
That will steep until tomorrow…steeping until I remove the peels and then begin
the real magic.

I’ll offer more tomorrow or as time allows.
But just know…that amber-hued, lemon studded, liquid will eventually be soft and clear.

My batch will be small…about a gallon or so.
My bartender friend has to make a much larger batch but hence when it’s gone, it’s gone.

No matter the amount, it will keep in the refrigerator for whenever I want a nice
small glass or should I have need for a punch bowl.

Stay tuned…

heightened senses….

“Memory believes before knowing remembers.
William Faulkner

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(Victorian Christmas Greeting card)

Every memory seems more keen.
Every sight seems more bright.
Every tear seems more heavy.
Every scent seems more strong.
Every sound seems more bold.
Every heartache seems more piercing.
Every loss seems more painful.
Every joy seems more complete.
Every touch seems more dear…

Each year, finding ourselves standing before what makes Christmas just that,
Christmas…
Our senses,
our thoughts,
our tastes,
our recollections…
seem hopelessly more intense, more sharp, more profound…

Be that a blessing
or
be that a curse.

Pain is greater.
Suffering is more fierce.
Joy is more contagious.
While satisfaction hangs precariously in the balance.

There are those who gravitate toward this more mystical and magical time
full of giddiness and glee…
while others wish to close their eyes,
not openning them again until mid January.

The sensory overload can be overtly overwhelming or palpably underwhelming.

And yet it is in that overload, be it over or under,
that we actually become more….
raw…
more open…
and even more vulnerable.

And it is in that vulnerability that the ego slightly abates….
the guard slips ever so quietly,
While pretense evaporates as the dew in first light…
As we are splayed wide open.

And it is in that moment of pure raw vulnerability that
the heart finally realigns,
beating rhythmically for the first time since the tragic Fall,
as it is once again, albeit briefly, in sync with all of Creation…

For no word from God will ever fail.”
Luke 1:37

beasts of burden, greased watermelons and a wallowing pig

“A spiritual Christian should welcome any burden which
the Lord brings his way.”

Watchman Nee

mules
(a mini heard of donkeys per the world wide web)

The other day my aunt told me that there was a lady at her
church who is often heard to say that…
whereas she knows that God does not give us more than we can carry (or bear),
she just wished that He would not keep confusing her with a mule…

Mule, donkey…one half dozen or the other….
beast of burden none the less…

And might I add that I am feeling every ounce of the burden for which I am currently
bearing and wearing…
and then some….

Have you ever tried picking up a greased watermelon?

When I was a little girl, our neighborhood pool, as part of their fourth of July celebrations,
would grease a large watermelon then drop it into the deep end of the pool…
allowing it to bob up and down.
Next a whistle would blow and all the kids would dive into the pool.
swimming as fast as they could to the deep end,
as everyone would try their best to grab the watermelon…
desperately treading water while attempting to be the first one to shove the watermelon
up out of the pool.

It’s a wonder we didn’t all drown.

And no, I never could get a hold of the greased melon,
let alone push it out of the pool.

That long forgotten memory came racing back to the forefront of thought today
when dad decided he could no longer stand while the caregiver was trying
to get him showered off.

He did look rather pitiful today when I arrived…all slumped down in his hospital bed.
The caregiver told him that while I was there, we were going to get him in the shower,
clean him up and get his sheets changed.

I was assigned bed linen duty while the caregiver maneuvered Dad into the stand-up shower.
Dad was smelling really ripe and definitely needed a shower much to his consternation
as he was perfectly content slumped down in his oh so not fresh bed and pjs while watching Matlock.

Dad didn’t want to get up.
Dad is terribly lazy.
He is perfectly content just sitting and wallowing…
much like a pig…as he is perfectly content wallowing in the muck and mire that
makes up his little world of filth.

My grandmother would have an absolute fit if she could see him now…
as I somehow think that she would certainly not claim him…
and I know mother, who was looking down on us, would most likely be telling those
she’s met up in heaven that she has never seen that man before in her life…
or is that afterlife…anywhooo…..

Dad and the caregiver were in mid rinse as I was just finishing up the bed
when I heard a frantic call for my name.

It seems Dad decided that he just didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, stand up any longer…
opting rather to gave up the ghost…
as he went down for the count…
sliding down along with the water working it’s way to the drain.

Have you ever tried picking up a greased watermelon?

Dad was a wet, slick bundle of pink flesh clumped on the floor of the shower
with the caregiver stuck in the corner behind him.
Steam was filling the small shower…
She was now soaked and he was listless.
More like dead, but not.
This while all of Dad’s bodily functions were now in full crisis mode..
It was a mess of epic proportions…
a terrible awful mess….

I don’t have an ACL in my right knee—an old football injury of long ago…
another story for another day…
but in a wet shower, with the water running
and shoes that are sliding while I’m trying to
lift a wet greased 170 pound watermelon…
a knee that will not hold fast only adds to the crisis.

And lets not forget I still have two ruptured discs in my back.
I now probably have two more….

We finally managed to get him up,
With me practically willing him up with my voice commands.
We wiped him down,
cleaned him up,
got him thankfully back in the fresh bed,
dried off,
and finally clothed…as best we could…

All the while my stepmother was in her room, door shut, sound asleep as she had not felt well,
none the wiser to the near 911 moment we were having in the shower.

By the time it came for me to thankfully head home, Dad, who was now clean and
was smelling so much nicer, was happily sitting propped up in his hospital bed,
happily munching on a chocolate covered doughnut wondering why the caregiver
and I seemed so stressed…

I really think God has me confused with an animal of immense burden….

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Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.

Psalm 55:22

the lull

“By removing the Bible from schools we would be wasting so much time and money
in punishing criminals and so little pains to prevent crime.
Take the Bible out of our schools and there would be an explosion in crime.”

Benjamin Rush,
Signer of the Declaration of Independence

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(hay bales wait in a pasture / Troup Co, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2016)

I know I’m sitting in a time of in-between.
A lull as it were in the frenetic business of life…
both mine and dads.

I’ve been down this road before…
diagnosis, swallowing hard, then waiting…

There is a nervousness in the normalcy to each day’s routine…
as the air is heavily pregnant with an unspoken inevitability.

But to what exactly that inevitable is..is yet to be seen.
For each day has a hidden dread waiting silently behind the averageness of the apparent.

And not only is this indicative of my own current life’s situation,
this same lull is hanging over most, if not all, of Western Civilization

There is a nervous lull, a quiet before an unknown storm…
hanging heavily over the heads of our Christian family.

But what it is exactly… is yet to be seen…
however the sense that something is off-kilter and hanging a bit skewed…
is very much present.

Life is changing…
daring and rapidly spiraling…
with so much being turned upside down on its head.

Yet we go on living…as if things were normal and good…
all the while knowing that something is looming…

Remembering complacency is not our friend…
we’ve watched a dangerous progression…
while turning our backs..

And now the storm clouds are gathering along the horizon
while we wait anxiously in the lull…

Time is truly of the essence…

It is easy to go along with the crowd,
but the one who is committed to living the crucified life will always lean
hard into the wind of opposition and misunderstanding

A. W. Tozer

He said to the crowd:
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say,
‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say,
‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites!
You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky.
How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

Luke 12:54

(ps update since writing…rushing to Atlanta…a potential crisis with Dad…
all prayers appreciated…)

a large collective sigh…..

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.”

Shel Silverstein

RSCN3812
(my giddy, degree holding, son)

Did you hear that?

That sound of exhaling?

That whooshing sound Saturday morning…
the sound of a large collective, slow released, heavy sigh?

The sound of years and years of the breath held by two parents, their son…
and now a young wife…
along with a myriad number of friends and family…

A sigh that has actually been held for….
A lifetime.

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See this young boy?
This picture was taken on a balmy Friday night in May of 2007.
It’s the image of young man who had just graduated high school…
standing on the edge of a well anticipated future…

Yet what he, in his delirium of conquering the one mountain failed to realize that carefree night,
was that he was not yet finished climbing…
For looming in the distance, just beyond the horizon of his youthful exuberance,
lay a mountain range far more challenging than what he had just conquered….

That exciting evening, so long ago, indeed marked a successful passing….
The passing of a 12 year long struggle…

Yet the magnitude of the struggle to which I speak is most likely lost on those who have never
experienced or lived through a child who has had to struggle academically.

And whereas I have written about this struggle before…
That of his particular struggle and of our particular struggle as a family…
The massive weight and enormity of it all came rushing back to the forefront of my heart and soul
this past Saturday morning while sitting in a crowded gym of a southern university.

From that fateful day his first grade teacher called me, a fellow educator, telling me she had a concern…a concern that something just wasn’t right…
to finally sitting in a college gym waiting for a commencement ceremony to begin…
our road has been painfully long and arduous.

From the hard diagnosis of a crippling learning disability…(most likely inherited…)
later compounded by a diagnosis of ADD…
It was double indemnity that was sadly to be our unfortunate lot.

There were many hurdles, impossible hurdles…
And there was testing..lots and lots of testing.

There were the years of refusal to take the medications that were promised to help make things easier…
to finally relenting…
Then only to live with the ill effects of those medications on ones body…
Eventually going back to life without medical help.

There were disappointments…
and failures,
and lapses,
and anger,
and frustration…

There were tears…
lots and lots of tears…
from both child and parents.

There were tutors, reading camps, repeated courses, more tutors…
There was working, studying, studying longer and harder then others
There was the staying after, long after others were gone…
There were sacrifices…

And…
There were a few rare triumphs…
The acceptance letters…
Along with the…
changing of schools…
The changing of majors…
The sitting out…
The waiting…
The continued waiting…
The nos,
The not yets,
The not nows…
The too bads…

Yet there were hopes and dreams.
Always hopes and dreams…
Hopes and dreams that would never fade or go away…

And there was a determination to realize those very hopes and dreams…
just like anyone else who has hopes and dreams…
anyone else who was “normal”….
because wasn’t that what so much of this was all about…
just wanting to be normal like everyone else…

Knowing that you were not stupid…that you were not slow or dumb…
as they would whisper behind your back…
Knowing all the while that you were smart and that you could learn…
that you could excel…
that you could be like everyone else…by God!!!
And by God it would be….

You wanted to prove that you were normal…
Normal like those who didn’t have to struggle, didn’t have to work so very hard…
You wanted to be like those who made the good grades, who didn’t have to expend the energies…
You wanted to be like those who just made school seem… easy…

However today is not that day…
It is not to be that day for the retelling of the very long and hard fought journey of ours…
It is not the day for rehashing and re-living the difficulties nor for the recounting of all the struggles…
And it is not a day to expound upon our seemingly misfortunate poor dumb luck…

No…

Today is not that day…

Rather…

Today is THE day to rejoice…
It is a day to soak it all in.
It is a day to exhale.
It is a day to smile.
It is a day for tears.
It is a day of HOPE.
It is a day of DREAMS.
And it is a day of Thanksgiving and Gratitude….

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The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.

Psalm 6:9

Pick it up…or not

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
Matthew 16:24-26

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(painting of Christ carrying the cross located in the Rock of Cahsel rectory / County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Picking up your cross…
What does it mean…?

There is without a doubt a heaviness,
A weight and heft to the raw wood.
Roughly hewn, it immediately scratches and rips the smooth skin of palms and tender fingers
It’d be easier to drop it then to continue on.

The heaviness is foreign…out of the ordinary of lifting, nearly impossible to pick up…
Muscles stretch beyond capacity, burning, aching…
A back nearly breaks…
The realization is that lifting it is one thing…
carrying it from start to finish is overwhelming…

Many have opted to drop theirs, deciding to go on without it…
Free and weightless,…
no worries…
But where does one go without it?

What then matters?

Nothing…
Nothing else ever matters…


Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

John 23-25

Head cast down

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed;
we are perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken;
cast down, but not destroyed

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

Psalm 37:24

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(a tiny volunteer pansy pops up between the driveway and the brick walk / Julie Cook / 2014)

Perhaps it is the unseasonable weather.
Perhaps it is the grey sky.
Perhaps it is the stressful holidays.
Perhaps it is the burdens of life
Perhaps it is the numerous funerals of late.
Perhaps it is the recent news of loss and death.
Perhaps it is the sudden transitions of life
Perhaps it is the news. . .

Head cast down, eyes now dimmed, starring blankly at nothing
As a heavy invisible weight pushes shoulders ever more downward and bent
The usual quick and brisk gait now laboriously hindered.
Gone are the lush colors of the vibrant growth of life.
The greyness of melancholy wraps its spindly arms around any and all
While joy and hope seem to have vanished with the sun.

And just as the bleakness seems to swallow up any remaining sense of purpose,
Out of a tiny crack, wedged tightly between pavement and walkway, a tiny ray of Love raises its head for all to see.
A small yet powerful and potent reminder of a never-ending love constantly present yet often times forgotten and overlooked between a Father and His child.

“Remember, I am with you always. . .” whispers the tiny bloom.