imports and exports

“Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be,
and becoming that person.”

St. Therese of Lisieux


(a lovely orange bell pepper / Julie Cook / 2018)

Here it is the height of the summer despite many school systems already heading back
for the start of the new school year.

Living down South, in a place where summer’s luscious produce is hitting its zenith, despite
the stores beginning to put out their fall and Thanksgiving goods, I happened to notice
an odd occurrence when stopping by the local grocery store.

I ran in the store in order to pick up a few things the other day and grabbed one
of the colorful bell peppers stacked ever so neatly on the grocery store’s produce shelf.

I usually prefer the red, yellow or orange varieties over the innocuous green ones as
they taste no different but add a splash of color to whatever one is preparing.

Once home, as I was putting away the groceries, I pulled out my bell pepper.
I looked at the tag stuck to the pepper, reading to see if my bell pepper came from
either Florida or California…all the while secretly hoping it would read Georgia.
It’s that time of the season you know here in Georgia—when gardens are now fully bearing
their long-anticipated fruits of a farmers labor.

Yet I am well aware that our Nation’s produce belts lie in our more temperate climate states…
States such as California and Florida…for various fruits and vegetables and places like
Nebraska or Iowa for corn.

However, imagine my surprise when I read that my beautiful bright colored pepper hailed from none
of the aforementioned states but was actually born and raised in Holland.

The last place I think of when I think of something like a bell pepper is Holland…as in this
low land, country is known for several other things besides bell peppers.
Beer yes, peppers no.

If I still had a garden, this is the time when my own peppers were coming into their own.
Would it not make more sense to have a pepper from right here in Georgia…
since this is our time of year for the likes of produce such as peppers???

Instead I picked a pepper, not a peck of peppers mind you, that had to actually come to me
via a cargo container…and yet despite an arduous journey from the land of canals and windmills
over the Atlantic Ocean, a beautiful orange pepper arrives at my grocery store…
looking pretty as the day it was most likely plucked.

Makes me wonder as to how this pepper has stood up so well during its travels from Holland
to my fridge here in Georgia.

And so yes, it may not be convenient for me to trek out to the local farmer’s market–
getting grocery items at the grocery store and produce items at the produce market and then
butcher goods from a local butcher (of which we no longer have in our smaller community)
I just might want to rethink my shopping habits as I would prefer a fresh locally grown
pepper as to this lovely trans Atlantic pepper.

And nothing against Holland nor this beautiful pepper…but I do prefer local when I can find it.

There are things that each country does well—think Chocolate form Belgium, Beer and sausages from Germany, olive oil from Italy, Spain and Greece…along with olives…
think wines from France, Italy, Portugal and yes, California…

We all have something that is indicative to each of our home nations…
products that we do well…and it should be noted that some nations have been
doing what it is they do now for centuries…

But when it comes to summer produce…well, I kind of prefer mine to grown a bit closer to home…
because Heavens knows that here in the South, we are in the height of the season…

Makes me think about my own seasonal worth and productivity…
that of my own exports and imports…

What has God labored over within me that is now ready for harvest…

And once harvested, it’s time to share…

“However great our efforts, we cannot change ourselves.
Only God can get to the bottom of our defects, and our limitations in the field of love;
only he has sufficient mastery over our hearts for that.
If we realize that we will save ourselves a great deal of discouragement and fruitless struggle.
We do not have to become saints by our own power;
we have to learn how to let God make us into saints.
That does not mean, of course, that we don’t have to make any effort…
We should fight, not to attain holiness as a result of our own efforts,
but to let God act in us without our putting up any resistance against him;
we should fight to open ourselves as fully as possible to his grace, which sanctifies us.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 14-5
An Excerpt From
In the School of the Holy Spirit

seeking and hiding

“In moments of exaltation one expressed sentiments that outstripped
one’s spiritual capabilities by a vast span; and she knew well that
unless God is sought for Himself alone, with a selflessness
of which she was at present incapable,
He is not to be found.”

― Elizabeth Goudge


(wild blackberries are ripening deep in the Georgia woods / Julie Cook / 2017)


(the ripening blueberries bushes out back in the yard / Julie Cook / 2017)

I go to great lengths when it comes to seeking out, and subsequently picking,
those glistening seasonal black and blue ripening gems…
those succulent orbs and globes of juicy blueberries and now
the incoming crop of wild blackberries.

I have been known to go to near daredevil feats in order to fill a basket, bowl or bag
with these precious little beauties.
I have braved chiggers, ticks, snakes…as well as bleeding to death due to digging deep
into the proverbial briar patch.

This obsessiveness over berry picking worries my husband.

He seems to believe that I do not possess the gift of lithe or grace when it comes to say,
walking…let alone standing on my head while reaching deep into a thicket of the unknown
in search of the elusive black or blue jewel.

I think it comes down to the fact that he’s going to hold that broken ankle business
against me for the rest of my non broken life.
It wasn’t my fault I fell in a drain hole while putting out the pine straw that spring…
a hole he’d dug out just days prior and failed to fill back in before I stepped in it.

So when I must balance on a narrow brick wall,
while leaning over as far as I can with one foot planted on the ledge while
the other leg is sticking straight out behind me in some sort of yoga like pose…
all the while as I’m reaching as far as I can
without face planting into a mass jumble of branches,
fruit and leaves…
well, I don’t know what the fuss and worry is all about.

I mean, I watch for the snakes, bees and ants.
I try my best not to fall, really I do.
I can’t help that I’ll be covered with red whelps the following day that will itch like
nobody’s business…
I can’t help that I scream the word “STOP!!” when we’re happily and quietly driving down
a road in the middle of nowhere when I suddenly spot a lovely ripening bramble bush
along the side of said deserted road… beckoning to be picked.
He likes the pies and cobblers…so what’s all the the big worry???

So naturally while I was reaching and digging deep buried up to my elbows in stickers,
all during the throws of my berry seeking session yesterday,
oh so busy about the task of finding and picking…
I was stuck by a startlingly similarity between my hyper focused quest in seeking
the elusive hiding fruits—the object of an almost obsessive determination, and
the lengths to which I know God goes when He wants, nay yearns, to seek out and
eventually find….us….

As we have the tendency to hide, always painstakingly out of arms reach…and
yet a loving God painstakingly seeks his own…
for He will go to even much greater and even more daring lengths in His quest for us
than dare say I do over a mere berry….

And boy how grateful I am that He does!

I will seek that which was lost,
and bring again that which was driven away,
and will bind up that which was broken,
and will strengthen that which was sick:
but I will destroy the fat and the strong;
I will feed them with judgment.

Ezekiel 34:16

plucking time

“Today one may pluck out one’s very heart and not find it.”
― Franz Kafka


(the first of the season / Julie Cook / 2017)

Simplistic seasonal changes give way to the reaping of small harvests…
As the western world reels from another chaotic and senseless attack.

Caustic comedians are wallowing in sanctimonious apologies
while casting wide nets of blame blanketing the very ones they mock.
As a fallen candidate joins the fray with the same empty mantra…
“Not my fault….”

Madness and hatred are the offerings on tap
while unsuspecting berries ripen on the bush

There’s an old nemesis who seems to be enjoying renewed friction
while the media and press proclaim the sky is falling.
As the dividing line between right and left becomes impossible to bridge.

There’s something comforting in the mindless gathering of ripening fruit
Something seemingly mundane yet blessedly sane…
as the world spins wildly out of control….

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.
“Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for
the hope that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience,
so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ
may be ashamed of their slander.
For it is better, if it is God’s will,
to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

1 Peter 3:13-17

out of sync

This search for happiness can knock us out of sync with God. As the life of Jesus makes clear, keeping in sync with God is about obedience. Any other pursuit will get in the way.
Franklin Graham

DSC02442
(the grackles are back / Julie Cook / 2015)

A common visitor to the yard, in the quiet dull grey winter months, is the common grackle.
A lanky gregarious bird who reminds one of that over the top boisterous relative who comes periodically to visit, wreaking havoc on one’s usually quiet, calm and orderly world.
The grackles swoop in by the hundreds, like a giant black undulating cloud, shape shifting against th bleak cold backdrop of sky.
Loud,
noisy,
obnoxious. . .

So imagine my confusion today when that oh so familiar black squawky loud cloud of winter descended on the yard in the middle of a hot, sweltering August morning.
Hummmm. . .

They swooped in by the hundreds—darting through the early morning sprinklers spraying a desperately thirsty lawn. They chased the regular birds from the feeders. They pecked and groused at the mourning doves. They filled the trees like a million black frigidity leaves. They devoured the stale bread I’d thrown out for the crows. Even the rabbits ran for cover when the shifting black cloud landed, blanketing the lawn like a heavy black curtain.
The silent genteel Southern morning calm now punctuated with the herky jerky jabbering din of chaos.

As to why this unseasonal visitation, I can’t exactly say—but I will say that it has brought a bit of lively vigor to this otherwise oppressively hot, dog day, sensory dulling, summer’s end. . .
I can’t help but feel a bit out of sync with this topsy turvy season business and wonder what, or more precisely who, just might show up next. . . .

DSC02436

DSC02440

Colorful returns

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
Nelson Mandela

DSC01392

DSC01388
(early season wild blackberries / middle of nowhere Troup County, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2015)

Bejeweled little beauties
Transforming in the May sun’s warmth
Like tiny chameleons. . .
They charm and captivate
First green then red
And later purple, maybe even blue. . .
Before finally reaching the lusciousness of black. . .
Bulging with sweetness
Beguiling and beloved
They bedazzle and bewitch
Tempt and bemuse
Announcing Summer’s triumphant return . . .

Change is in the air

Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

DSC00801
(these “wood” eaters seem to enjoy nectar as well / Julie Cook / 2014)

DSC00778
(a seasonal carpenter bee has returned for “spring work” / Julie Cook / 2015)

They’reeeeee baaaaacckkkk. . .
Those pesky seasonal hungry wood rats, I mean carpenter bees, those true harbingers, I mean heralders of Spring.
I caught this one in mid bore, hanging upside down on a post out on the back deck.
They eat right into the wood of decks, porches, siding, eves. . .anything wooden that’s a part of a house. . .be it painted or not, stained or not. . .they eat, chew, drill, bore. . .
creating nesting sites.

They can sting but usually don’t as they prefer the art of intimidation. They will “buzz” toward anyone who enters their “space” or territory, usually hovering in place until you swat at them, only to quickly return to bother you some more. It is the males who tend to be a bit more aggressive then the females with regard to the whole dance of intimidation. You can recognize them by the yellow dot on their head—right between the eyes.

The only way I know that they sting is when my cat finds it fun and adventuresome to jump on the hovering pests, grabbing said bee up in his mouth while attempting to run inside with his “catch” in order to “gift” me with his latest accomplishment. Most of the time he won’t make it inside as the bee will have stung the inside of his mouth, forcing him to open and drop as he begins swatting frantically at his mouth. One would think that one experience, maybe two, with the bees would be incentive enough to leave them alone—sadly the idea of a prize seems greater than the pain. . .

All of this talk of bees and of this busy time of newness and growth naturally brings the whole concept of being ready, being prepared, being mindful front and center to my thought process.

Spring is a time of great transition.
Not only are things greening up, budding, blooming, buzzing, pollinating. . .
Spring becomes a time of doing. . .renovations, cleaning, planting, tiling, changing. . .
It’s time to discard the old and bring in the new. . .as in clean, fresh, bright. . .

Spring is also a time when there is literally change in the air, or more precisely, the winds.
Winter’s cold winds are pushed aside for the warming lilt of Spring. Jet streams lift and revert.
Yet it is this very pushing of winds, the time of warm meeting cold, which becomes most problematic.

Our incoming warmer days and nights can exact a heavy price producing tumultuous Springtime storms. Skies can grow angry quickly, as air masses fight for dominance. Thunderstorms with their wicked lightening strikes and spawned tornadoes make Spring one of the deadliest times of year as far as Mother Nature is concerned.

Living in the proverbial tornado alley swarth, which cuts through the mid and southern tier of our United States, dictates caution while keeping one eye directed to the sky at all times.
Joining with the rest of humanity as we transition from a wicked winter that overstayed its welcome to a feisty new tempestuous Spring, with giddy exuberance and joy, I do so not with reckless abandon but rather with a bit of cautious yet hopeful optimism.

As we journey now, a bit worse for the wear, toward the end of Lent. . .with Palm Sunday, Passover and Easter all knocking on the door—may we rejoice in this new birthing of Nature as well as the birth of renewal within our spiritual selves. May we marvel in the busyness of the bees, the jittery darting and dashing of the myriad of birds who are hurriedly toiling building their nests. May those of us who suffer grievously from seasonal allergies find relief, and may we all remain vigilant when the warming skies decide to turn ominous and dark . . .

Here’s to Spring,
Here’s to life,
Here’s to new,
Here’s to change. . .

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.”
Zephaniah 3:9

DON’T SING THAT SONG!!!!!!!

“The sun,–the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man–burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.”
― Charles Dickens

DSCN4257
(I had to go back a full year to find a sun shot for March / Julie Cook / 2014)

“Sunshine go away today
I don’t feel much like dancing. . .”

You remember that catchy little tune don’t you?
It was a late 60’s sounding folksy tune, written and sung by Jonathan Edwards, which actually came out in 1971. A catchy seemingly happy enough tune, yet with some dark angry undertones. . .

“Some man’s gone he’s tried to run my life
Don’t know what he’s asking

How much does it cost, I’ll buy it
The time is all we’ve lost, I’ll try it
But he can’t even run his own life
I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine, Sunshine”

We should actually all take notice that during this particular time of waning, yet fiercely determined winter, which has a deep and angry hold over most of our lives, and which continues wrecking havoc on our lives by lashing out with snow, ice, rain, cold, winds, fog, mist, deep grey. . . all of which seems to be holding our dear sun not only at bay but more like hostage, I am passionately proclaiming that no one, I repeat, no one must be allowed to sing that song!!!

Sun, PPPPLLLLEEEEEAAAAASSSSSEEEE, don’t go away, but rather I’m begging, COME BACK and STAY!!!

I am afraid that we are soon to have a national epidemic on our hands—a paralyzing byproduct to these lingering wintertime blues known scientifically as S.A.D. . .Seasonal Affective Disorder–a widely recognized medical condition with symptoms such as depression, lethargy, fatigue, cravings for heavy carbs (hummmm), and an overall feeling of the icky, ehh, blahs.

And may I add that my husband seems to have a really bad case. . .for he is defiantly SAD, ill, mad, or in laymen’s terms. . .out of sorts and very, very grumpy.

His only day off throughout the long workweek is Sunday, as he owns and operates a small retail business in our community. . .which, may I add, is in itself enough to make anyone grumpy and ill of temperament. And I sadly must report that the past 4 Sundays in a row it has been rainy, wet, foggy icy, snowy, cold, grey, icky, ehh and blah. . .in other words, not days you want to exactly run around outside fishing, working in the yard or simply basking in the glories of the great outdoors. This for a man who loves nothing but being out in the wilds of nature especially after having been cooped up in retail 6 days a week, 14 hours a day.
“Of course it could be worse” he laments, “we could live in Boston.. .”

And speaking of Boston. . .
Our northern kinsmen have been unduly hammered by Mother Nature this winter, as well as our brethren in the Midwest, the central mid section, the Northwest, Canada, not to mention northern Europe. . . I fear we just may have a full fledged CDC 5 alarm epidemic on our hands. . .a malady of S.A.D. run amuck.
And lest we forget that a SAD, Ill, out of sorts husband makes for a frazzled, exasperated, and disturbed wife. . .I’ve we’ve defiantly got big troubles on my our hands. . .

Panic stricken, as we find ourselves scrambling for some sort of treatment or cure, we desperately seek out experts who can stop this spreading menace before it’s all too late.
And just when we thought all was lost, we actually discover that we have several options of choice.

The obvious, yet most impractical for the general populace, is to get the heck out of dodge. Get on a plane and fly away to some place full of sun and warmth—joining in with the throngs of the same minded and obviously overtly pale individuals seeking solace while flocking to more tropical environs—hence the abomination know to any true native southern Floridian, the ubiquitous snowbird

The other option is Vitamin D.
What???
Yes vitamin D.
But I thought vitamin D was all about milk and bones, right?
Well yes. . .as we must remember that the greatest source of Vitamin D produced in our bodies is taken in through our skin from sunlight with other secondary sources including the consumption of milk, oily fish, eggs. . .

So more often than not, our wintertime depressive sun deprived moods are due to just that, the deprivation of light and of our exposure to the sun.
We’ve discovered that those who suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency are most often those who have little to no exposure to the outdoors and daylight, no basking and frolicking in the sunshine. For when the sun hangs low on the horizon, as it does in our more northernly Northern Hemisphere skies, during the dark days of winter, a lack of Vitamin D is a very real and common occurrence.

Another available option is the use of a specially designed light box
What??
A light box, a box fitted with special bulbs which are much brighter than the average indoor lightbulb. A light box mimics the full spectrum and intensity of light cast from the sun. Most experts recommend sitting by a light box for approximately 30 minutes each day, preferably shortly after waking, in order to get the full required amount of exposure.

Ok. . .so now having fully considered my options, I’m pretty certain I know the course of action I must take.

First, I’m going to buy my husband a bottle of Vitamin D supplements.
Secondly I’m going to buy a life sized light box that I’ll lock him in that he’ll be able to fully utilize reaping all the benefits while I in turn buy a one way ticket to some delightfully warm tropical locale such as, say, Bali or Fiji or Turks and Caicos or the Seychelles, or. . .well, you get the picture. . .some place with greenery and warmth, drinks with little umbrellas. . .a place where I can sit, basking in a beach chair singing “here comes the sun“. . .a place that has lots and lots of Vitamin D !!
So while I’m gone, don’t forget to take your vitamins. . .