a continuation of beginnings and comings

See me safe up: for in my coming down,
I can shift for myself.

Thomas More

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(the frozen demise of the mint / Julie Cook / 2017)

Despite our having just journeyed through the season known for all things of anticipation…
that sacred time of observing Advent, which then culminates with the wondrous arrival
of the illuminating Nativity…
we actually, in this silent and slumberous time of deep winter,
continue finding ourselves waiting and watching.

Found in the Latin word adventus, which is the translation of the Greek word parousia,
we find a word and meaning that has traditionally been used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.
Not so much denoting a single and initial birth, but rather embracing the anticipation of
a second birth…a sort of re-coming…

Yet, as William Stringfellow observes,
“we live now, in the Untied States, in a culture so profoundly pagan that Advent
(or any other Christian “season”)*
is no longer really noticed, much less observed.
The commercial acceleration of seasons,
whereby the promotion of Christmas begins even before there is an opportunity to enjoy
Halloween, is superficially, a reason for the vanishment of Advent.
But a more significant cause is that the churches have become so utterly secularized
that they no longer remember the topic of Advent.
*(parentheses mine)

And so it seems that our secular and worldly selves have given way from our
continuation of waiting and watching to rather the glossing over of a key
observational time within our faith.
We have allowed, as it appears we have preferred, to move away from that which should
still be our focus, yielding rather, to the superficial luster of the fleeting.

For it seems that the notion of Advent, or any other of the “seasons” of the church,
has fallen way to the more glamorous secular association of what should actually be the truly
innate spiritual rhythms of our beings.

Yet as unrelenting and ever-faithful,
we now find ourselves transitioning from the anticipation found in Advent and the Nativity
to Epiphany, leading way to Ash Wednesday and the heaviness of the somber Lenten season…
as it too shall give way to the unending promise of Hope…

We enter, once again into a time of waiting and watching…
waiting not so much for the first birth with its earth shattering life that was cut
tragically short by a brutal yet necessary death…
but rather we, the dwindling yet tenacious faithful, both wait and watch
not for an ending associated with death but rather for the continuation of what is to come…

Life anew and everlasting…

As we find ourselves listening to once again, as well as claiming, those prophetic words of that
lone figure who cried out to the masses so long ago…
as his words continue to resonate in our hearts…

MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!'”
Matthew 3:3

Therapy amongst the mint

“All of earth is crammed with heaven
And every bush aflame with God
But only those who see take off their shoes.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
Anne Frank

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(a clump of freshly pulled mint mixed in a pile of roots / Julie Cook / 2015)

The air was punctuated with the pungent aroma of mint and basil mingled with a heavy dose of loamy moist dirt.
I had taken pruning shears with me, but put them aside in favor of my two gloved hands.
My intent was to simply cut it all back but instead I opted to hopefully rid my yard and life of the invasive mayhem.

The growing green mass had covered the whole front corner of the bed by the garage and was set to cover up Mimi’s ancient cement bench if something wasn’t done and done soon to stop this almost giddy encroachment.

My heart has felt much the same in recent days, overrun and over burdened with and by the onslaught of the grim global headlines.

The now burgeoning sickly yellowish green patch is usually the first thing in the yard to show its tender new verdant foliage during those sleepy hopeful wee days between winter and spring. It’s what gives me hope that life, rebirth, regrowth and Spring will indeed vanquish Old Man Winter while ushering in welcoming warmer days.

As I wondered about how best to tackle the latest infestation of overgrowth in the shrub bed, my thoughts wandered a world away to what or whom would or could now vanquish the sweeping global sorrows that were entangling both my heart and soul.

Come late Summer. . .when life is dried out and burned out, just as the seasons prepare to knock on the door of Autumn, the leggy gangly masses have become a truly unsightly tangled mess of tired and spent. As in I’m just ready to cut it all away, rid my life of the jumbled mess and happily welcome in some cool crisp colorful order.

I wish I could easily do the same for our hurting planet.

I’ve always found solace in working with my hands.
The more manual the labor the more productive and alive I feel.
There is a cleansing honesty in working with one’s hands.
Never mind that my back has been giving me fits, never mind the heat index is still in the triple digits, I will gladly get down and dirty, as the sun continues to bake the world, for working hard in the yard is good for the soul, the mind and often literally the heart.

Oh that it could be so easy with this greatly burdened world of ours.

As a true Southerner I’ve grown up with mint sprouting from every yard I’ve ever called home. What better accompaniment to one’s tea or julep, depending on your preference, than a sprig of fresh mint? Anyone will tell you mint is easy, as in it grows itself. In fact it’s just a little too easy, as in too eager and way too invasive. It’s more like a weed gone wild then a treasured herb. Plus everyone who does any work in a garden will tell you, any novice can grow mint— it offers instant gratification to the more hesitant would-be gardeners among us.

But my mint patch has been on the run and I had to stop it before things got anymore out of hand. Rather than cut it back, just for it to sprout right back to this same spreading madness within a few days, I took to pulling it up, by the long lanky root full. Even poor ol St Francis had to be laid on his side just so I could get to what was running under my favorite saint’s feet. I don’t think he was much bothered by the intrusion.

As I yanked and pulled, buried just under the top layer of straw and soil, was a criss crossing network of an eerily bone white root system stretching for what seemed to be miles. With each tugged, pulled and unearthed jumble of lanky roots and dirt, earwigs and beetles alike scurried helter skelter, madly seeking a dark cloak of safety in the damp compost soil.

The more my thoughts drifted over the latest mounding national and global turmoils, I pulled harder and deeper. Sweat trickled down my face, pooling at the tip of my nose before dripping and disappearing into the blackened soil. The sweat seemed to reach across the globe mingling with the tears of those thousands of people now walking hundreds of miles in search of asylum and safety.

As the morning turned to afternoon, I had finally pulled up the last of the mint. The piles were now all raked up, the walkway swept and the pine straw smoothed as the shrub bed now had a delightfully clean and fresh look.

I still had no grand revelations as to how to help the ever growing global crises sweeping across our lives nor how to ease the lingering tensions within our own Nation. I was hot, tired and weary of body, but there was oddly a refreshing clarity of thought.
No longer did I feel totally overwhelmed or at a loss.
Still not knowing where to even begin to help, I gratefully no longer felt as defeated as I had.
There’s just something about physical labor, with it’s overwhelming beginning and productive ending, that gives hope to the overwhelming obstacles of life. . . hope that we can indeed tackle and eventually overcome the litany of misery facing our current global family.

I trust we will be able to do so. . .
for only in God, comes hope to the hopeless, and strength to the weak. . .

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:10

“Let me arise and open the gate, to breathe
the wild warm air of the heath,
And to let in Love, and to let out Hate,
And anger at living and scorn of Fate,
To let in Life, and to let out Death.”

Violet Fane

I could use one of those right about now. . .

Show me how you drink and I will tell you who you are.
~Emile Peynaud

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(a beautiful photo of a Cookie’s Cup / Julie Cook / 2014)

Ok, the official count down is underway!
Wedding Alert!!
June 7th!!!!!!!
Lots of “To Do’s” are crossed off the hefty list—yet oddly, as quickly as I check off one “To Do” item, seems as if 5 more are added. Hummmm

And money–let’s just not talk about that. . .
Still praying to grab hold of a Leprechaun cause robbing a bank is just not in my DNA.

By this time next week, I’ll be taking this show on the road . . .but before I can head towards the
Historic Georgia Coast, there are many miles to go here before there’s any thought of sleeping, resting or anything leisure.

And did you know that Springtime in Georgia lasts all of two weeks?
What does that have to do with wedding preparations you ask. . .
Well, it makes for hot work, and since the wedding is further south, an even hotter event.

Just about two weeks, sometime between late March, early April is when we have Spring.
After that little lull known as Spring, when our entire world turns yellow, look out, ’cause it’s full throttle Summer from here on out—as in sometime toward late October even possibly November!!
Summer is more like half the year here in Georgia.
If you like mid 90’s or better, and if you love not being able to breathe the air because the humidity is so thick you could wear it—then I’ve got a place for you!!

Heat, humidity and hazy days (the weather men call it hazy, I call it pollution but I digress)—that’s Georgia!!

So on those days that my nerves need soothing and my body needs refreshing, there is nothing better
than a “Cookie’s Cup.”
“A what?” you ask. . .
A Cookie’s Cup. . .as in my take on the quintessentially British summer cocktail cooler, The Pimm’s Cup.

If you’d like to try your hand at a Cookie’s cup, here’s what you’ll need:
–one bottle of Pimm’s No. 1 (a gin based, essentially British, herbal liqueur)
–One cucumber
“WHAT?!”
trust me. . .
–some strawberries
–crushed ice
–some Gin (I’m excited about Hendricks Gin these days–made in Scotland–a small batch gin, sleeper beverage coming in under the radar, below that infamous smoked peat beverage the Scots seems to love so much–who wants to drink smoked peat bogs??!! I digress)
–either some ginger ale, lime aid or some other lemon / lime flavored drink

–slice and seed a cucumber, or better yet, use a seedless one– then cut into sliced rounds or seeded chunks—I used about 6 little chunks (it’s a British thing, they put them in the original Pimm’s Cup, the big Wimbledon cocktail–and since the Hendricks gin uses cucumbers in their distilling, I figure it kind of all goes hand in hand)
–slice one to two large strawberries (they just look so pretty floating in a crystal glass don’t you think?)
–fill a pretty glass half way with crushed ice
–add the cucumber and strawberries
–add 1.5 oz of Pimm’s
–add 1 oz of Gin (if it’s been a really bad day, throw in an extra once of Gin for good measure)
–top off with lime aid or ginger ale
–Garnish with a mint sprig or slice of lime.

It’s not a sweet sort of drink but very quaffable–a light and easy aperitif. But if you need to sweeten it up a tad–add about a Tbl or two of simple syrup or Agave nectar— but remember the Agave is sweeter than sugar so you don’t need to use as much. The British love to make pitchers of Pimm’s, which in a pretty glass pitcher, can look most inviting. This is light, not a heavy alcoholic drink–and if you wanted it even lighter on the alcoholic side, you could do away with adding the Gin and stick primarily with the Pimm’s.

This is a nice sipping beverage on a hot afternoon when you’ve just looked at your check book and suddenly find yourself thinking of how you could do a better job of robbing a bank than the crooks you see on the evening news—
Bottoms up my friends. . .

Déjà vu, mint?

“Deja Vu All Over Again”
Yogi Berra

“Open the whisky, Tom,’ she ordered, ‘and I’ll make you a mint julep. Then you won’t seem so stupid to yourself… Look at the mint!”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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Ok, so it seems as if it was just last year that I was posting some rubbish about summer mint (Mentha × piperita), mint juleps, the Kentucky Derby and life in this quintessential South of mine.
Well bless my soul. . .the Derby ran Saturday (hooray for the underdogs!! California Chrome, what a wonderful story! If I were a betting woman, my money for a triple crown would be on this little young man—oh but we are digressing), and my yard is smack-dab full of mint. . .so it just seems more than appropriate to post something about mint and juleps and derbies all over again.
The same, yet different and yet new.

We’ve been having a bit of a rough go as of late. Our son has been having some health issues and the next couple of weeks call for tests with possible surgery. Did I mention there is a wedding June 7th?! Do you hear any panic in my voice? Good. I’m trying to keep that stiff upper lip you know. And also–we would all greatly appreciate any and all prayers!! Yet sadly, as is my child’s lot in life. . .when it rains it definitely pours. . . so I thought a nice little diversion was in order. . .as in a drink. Oh, not for me silly it’s still too early—but rather for you—as in I suppose the old song is right, it must be 5:00 PM somewhere on the planet?!

I had this little beauty Saturday as they were calling the jockeys to the Post. . .

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What is that you ask? Why it’s a world famous Julie Julep!!
And since I think I hear you saying you sure wish you had one right about now, I’m going to do the next best thing— I’m going to tell you how to make one.

First you’ll need a pretty glass—you can use a typical silver julep cup, or in my case, the best and prettiest crystal type glass you own.
–Gather a handful of mint (peppermint only)
— You’ll need an ounce or two (depends on your constitution) of good ol Kentucky Bourbon (that is if you’re a purist)–you may wander outside of the Kentucky state lines, drifting over to Tennessee or Virginia if you prefer, but it must be a Southern Bourbon of some sorts!
–either make some quick simple syrup (1/2 cup sugar + 1/2 cup water, boil ’til sugar dissolves) which you can also add mint leaves to in order to boost the mint flavor, or use agave nectar–works just as well–plus you don’t need as much nectar as you would simple syrup as agave nectar is sweeter than sugar—purists, however, stick to simple syrup.
–crushed ice
–here’s what makes it a Julie Julep–Limeade juice—as in Simply Limeade (this makes it most quaffable–meaning it’s smooth, refreshing and calls for more than one)
–a garnish of a mint sprig and a slice of lime.
MIX:
—In your glass, throw in a handful of mint. Some call for the addition of a little Demerara sugar thrown in which I did try and I kind of liked it. The coarse sugar helps break up the mint as you muddle it (pound and grind the life out of it). I must confess that I do not own a muddler. I use the end of a wooden spoon. Pound that mint with the spoon releasing those delightfully aromatic essential oils.
—add crushed ice
—add bourbon (1 oz to 2 oz it’s your call–I’m thinking 2– maybe even 3, but hey, we want more than one drink right?)
—add about 1 to 2 TBL of simple syrup or agave nectar (if you like it sweet, add more)
—fill the remainder of the glass with limeade.
—give that puppy a good stir, with a silver sipping straw of course, garnish with a nice pretty sprig of mint and a slice of lime.
NOW—settle back in one of the rocking chairs out on the front porch, prop up your feet if you’d like, as you enjoy the sun dipping low in the sky— begin singing to yourself “My old Kentucky Home” for a real sense of true Southern Living. . .

“My Old Kentucky Home”
by Stephen Foster

Contemporary Lyrics (1986):

The sun shines bright in My Old Kentucky Home,
‘Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn-top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom
While the birds make music all the day.

The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy and bright;
By ‘n’ by hard times comes a knocking at the door,
Then My Old Kentucky Home, good night!

Chorus:

Weep no more my lady
Oh weep no more today;
We will sing one song
For My Old Kentucky Home
For My Old Kentucky Home, far away

I spy mint– that can only mean one thing—Julep Time

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Here in “the South” –and for those of you readers not in the US, or familiar with the particular regions making up the US, “the South” means anything below the Mason Dixon line and east of Texas. The Mason who and what about Texas you ask??!! Well, most Southerners equate the Mason Dixon line as a dividing line dating from the Civil War time period denoting “free” states and “slave” states– or in layman’s term, northern states and southern states. However the survey line actually dates back much earlier and was originally used/created/surveyed to denote British colonies verses American Colonies—a dividing line no matter when or how you look at it.

And as far as Texas is concerned, when they travel, many a Texan will claim to hail from the South when asked from where it is they “come from”— but if the truth be told, Texans would prefer to say that they hail from the country of Texas, a separate country from the US entirely—it’s that big you know.

Anywho (a southern expression) back to the point of this story…here in the South, at the first sign of warm weather—and warm weather is anything on a thermometer reading from the 60s to 70ish degrees Fahrenheit, and of course the sun must be shining– people begin shedding. This phenomenon is a lot like animals that shed as the temperatures rise but rather than shedding hair or fur, Southerners shed clothes.

It could be January 6th on the calendar but if the day is sunny and feels “warm,” a Southerner will scour the closest for special clothing items that have been tucked away for winter hibernation— a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of flip flops (a simple type of sandal). Business people will think it a good idea to dine alfresco at lunch. Folks sporting convertible cars will think it wise to “pop the top.” (Let’s not talk about pollen yet, shall we—that is another story entirely, how the world turns to yellow powder). Snow and ice may be forecast for the following day, but this day, this day is warm and that means time to “soak up some rays” (meaning to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin and enjoy it).

When I was in college, attending The University of Georgia, I was a member of a sorority (a kind of club for girls). I was a Phi Mu. The Phi Mu house there in Athens, is an antebellum house dating back 150 years. It has an old tin rooftop. The Phi Mus were famous for “sunning” on the tin roof. It could be 38 degrees, with a cold north wind howling, on an early February day, but if the sun was shinning, and heat radiating, girls, oh so very pale girls, would don bathing suits, make for a window only to scamper out to the roof in order to procure a prime sunning spot. The roof of the Phi Mu house is famous you know.

However back to the story, again– as the temperatures begin a slow ascent upward, usually in March, the little, winter, dormant, garden plants that have been “hunkered down” (another southern expression) for the past couple of months, begin slowly creeping upward as well. One of the first little plants (weeds to some as it is a plant that spreads and never seems to give up) to emerge out of hiding from down in the dark soil, baring its sleepy little leaves, is the Mentha x piperita or the Peppermint plant/herb. I prefer Peppermint for my yard, however spearmint is the more common plant found in most gardens.

Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved peppermint tea. It was always a treat when my mother would buy me a tin of Twinning’s Peppermint tea, a real splurge on my mom’s grocery budget. I would feel so sophisticated making myself a cup of tea at the wise old age of 10. I must confess that this little ritual has been with me ever since but I digress.

Being the true Southerner that I am (I’m no transplant as I was born and raised here) I watch my sleepy little mint plants popping up out of the ground and I immediately start thinking Juleps!
What’s a Julep you ask—a beautifully sophisticated southern adult sipping beverage. Refreshing on a hot, humid southern sticky day (anyone traveling to the South in the summer months has come face to face with the dreaded southern sticky humidity—a type of heat that hits you smack in the face and sucks the life out of you. Making it difficult to breath, it can trigger health warnings and does a terrible number on one’s hair—but there I go digressing again…)

It is important to find something, anything to soothe the southern sticky humidity and a Julep is an age-old remedy. It is also a precursor to the most famous of horse races, the Kentucky Derby. I suppose Kentucky may claim to be the home of the Julep. I can’t say for certain, as I’ve not done any historical research into the inception of the drink, but given that the main ingredient is Kentucky Bourbon, I suppose they may claim it as so.

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I would like to continue this little discourse of all things southern, horse racing, juleps, etc…but today is one of those “sunny” southern days of glory. My mind is wandering to all things of warm weather…cookouts, the sweet smell of freshly mowed grass, fire ants (damned creatures—for another post), long sunny afternoons, watermelons, star gazing to the mournful sound of the whipper-o-wills, sweet corn on the cob with buttery wonder dripping down one’s chin, and a tall frosty glass of either a julep or even a mojito to quench that sweltering sticky humidity that I know is coming…

Here are two little recipes for a Julie Julep or of Jujito –be mindful that I am not one big on the whole concept of measuring. I’m of the school of a dash of this and a splash of that…a scary little concept when talking Bourbon, Vodka or Pisco. (Pisco is a wonderful fermented liquor made from distilled grape must originating from Peru—I prefer it to Tequila).

Get a pretty tall/collins glass—I pull out my best Waterford crystal (thank you Ireland). But a true Julep cup is a small squat sterling silver cup which nicely captures the “sweat” of the ice within on an oh so hot day….. Cut a bunch of fresh mint leaves. Get some crushed ice. If you’re a purist, make some simple syrup by boiling equal parts sugar and water but I have found Agave nectar to be a quick solution—found at grocery stores—
Place the mint in the glass/ cup and using a muddler, or the end of a wooden spoon, crush the mint leaves releasing the essential oils. Fill the glass with crushed ice. Add a Tablespoon to 1 oz syrup/ nectar, depending if you like it sweet or not. Next add 2 to 3 ounces of good Kentucky bourbon (the best you can afford) and if necessary an ounce or so of water, depending if you’re a purist or not—give it all a stir, top with some mint leaves and voila!!

The Jujito is more of a lime inspired libation equally rewarding on a hot sticky southern evening. Get a tall/ Collins glass (see above). Fill with mint leaves, crushing with a muddler or end of a wooden spoon. Cut a lime in half and squeeze ¼ to ½ of the lime in the glass. Pour in 1 oz of syrup/nectar, 2 to 3 ounces of either Pisco or Vodka—the Pisco is really the best choice. Top off the glass with lime-aid, Simply Lime, or some other limejuice type beverage (not a soda—raspberry lemonade can be substituted). Top with a slice of lime and more mint—enjoy and do not gulp.

Warning–if you want more accuracy measuring, perhaps a lookup of a cocktail would be helpful–you are welcomed to experiment with ingredients and measurements–whatever floats your boat (another southern expression). These are meant to be savored in a lawn chair or rocking chair–no drinking and driving ever intended!!

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