Going home…as it should be

Maybe that’s the best part of going away for a vacation-coming home again.
Madeleine L’Engle


(mom’s roses / Julie Cook / 2018)

Well…
for both happy and sad, today (yesterday in case you’re reading this today) has finally come.

The day for packing up and having to move from a temporary home back
to a real home has arrived…

This is the part of life’s story when being the adult, the grown-up, the parent,
the grandparent is one of the more difficult roles to play.
Life dictates that I’m supposed to be the one who knows what is best and
simply keep that stiff upper lip.

And so, reluctantly, I do.

We packed up and journeyed homeward.

A wreck, coupled by construction, on 285 had us sitting in traffic for over an hour.

Do you know what a screaming baby sounds like in a car stuck in the middle of
an interstate impasse?
A baby who is happy only as long as the car is moving??

I wanted to roll down the windows for all the truckers and cars alike—telling them this
is what I’m currently listening to so could everyone just please drive
like they’re supposed to!!!

Yet when we finally reached “home”, what a splendid greeting…
Mom’s little lone tea rose bush was in full bloom.

Blooms of anticipation for a great-granddaughter mom never meet here on earth but
who I know she has met long before I had even met my little one.

This wee one has finally come home…a home that was once mom’s home…
a home that was also once my own home.

What a most fitting welcome…

And so whereas I will miss these day to day moments of growth and change…

I know there’s just nothing like one’s own bed and one’s own space…
each providing a welcomed sense of peace

Sweet dreams my precious little wee one…

When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

Proverbs 3:24

just make mine vanilla

Love ice cream.
I let myself have that about once a week.
Vanilla.

Tim Tebow


(three old shots from back in 2013 when I was first making my vanilia extract–the longer it sits,
the better it gets…just add a new bean or two over time and top off with the sprit of choice)

I like to cook.
This much we know to be true.

I use to post a good bit about my cooking exploits but over time I’ve obviously shifted my
focus and attention to issues I find more pressing…
issues like those concerning Christianity
and the practicing of our faith in a post-modern, post-Christian era.

However, I will still raise the battle cry over other issues I think pertinent to this good fight
we call life…

Take today for instance…(or yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday)

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
I needed some cat food and Grapeseed oil so while I was over in the cooking oil aisle,
I decided I needed to check out the spices.
I needed to peruse the spice area as there seemed to be a mental list somewhere nagging
in my brain, begging me to remember something from this particular section that I needed…

I grabbed some Adobo chili powder.
I’ve never used it before but I’d seen a recipe for slow-simmered chicken…a recipe for chicken tacos…remember, I’m trying to reduce the iron content while looking for foods that will avert the absorption—spicey things supposedly help.

While still perusing, my eyes stopped on a bottle of Vanilla beans.

Ahhh, the mental alarm clock sounded.

Yep, I needed some more beans as I’d used the last two I had in the recently poached pear recipe.
(also a tasty recipe I once posted)

I grabbed the bottle.
There were two measly beans in the bottle.
Vanilla beans are a precious commodity.
But why companies are so chintzy I’ve never figured it out.

I looked at the price—they are usually costly as I’ve paid almost 10 bucks a bottle before,
but I was wondering just how high they might be now.
I do prefer ordering my beans in bulk as it’s cheaper but I needed to have at least two on hand.
One never knows when an unctuous creme brulee is calling…

What to my wandering eyes did appear but a 2 and a 5 joined together…as in
25 dollars for the bottle!!!!!!

WHAT?????

Is this a misprint??? my panicky brain wonders.
I march myself, with the bottle in hand, over to a gal at a register.
“Is this price correct” I practically screamed at the unsuspecting cashier.
She scanned the bottle.
“Oh my gosh” she practically screams back.
“25 dollars for Vanilia beans???? she nervously screams again.

“That’s what I thought” I reply almost exhausted from our heightened sense of distraughment.

I use vanilla beans a lot.

I’ve actually made my own vanilla and bourbon vanilla extracts, a recipe in which
I’ve shared in prior posts from back in 2013.
A homemade vanilla extract is the best of the best!! And it lasts forever.

Making the extract required my having to buy a bunch of beans…
beans I had actually ordered from Amazon–
I used Tahitian and Madagascar beans as each offers a different floral warm scent and taste.

Once home from the store, I decided to go check out the Amazon site,
just to see what they were currently selling my bulk bag of beans for as I was going to order
a new batch just to store for when I needed them—

Immediately I see that 5 beans, just 5 little beans, were going for a whopping 27 bucks.
Which did, however, beat the grocery store’s two beans for 25 bucks.
My regular ordered batch of shrink-wrapped beans was going for…
sit down before I tell you…
1/4 of a pound of beans at $115.00 while a full pound of beans listed for $400!!!!!!!!

For a batch of homemade vanilla extract, you need a good 15 to 20 beans…
of which maturate in a bottle that is large enough to contain them with enough vodka or
bourbon poured over to cover…as they are left to steep until a deep rich brown color
appears and the heady spicy aroma of delicious warmth wafts from the uncorked bottle.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON????? I practically wail.

I immediately race to the trusty all-knowing Google to type in ‘vanilla bean prices’
and sure enough, I found many articles and news stories regarding the exponentially
skyrocketing prices

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vanilla-bean-shortage-madagascar-drives-up-us-prices/

A precarious commodity that is a fragile commodity.
A product that is prone to drought, fickled growing seasons, poaching, farmers who don’t
allow the pods to fully mature in a race to get the pods to a demanding market and finally
it is simply a matter of time…for it takes three long years for a plant to produce a pod.

According to Wikipedia, vanilla is the second most expensive spice coming in right
behind saffron.
And gathering a ready pod is extremely labor intensive because these pods of
this particular species of the orchid family are each hand pollinated…pod per pod.

Vanilla, just plain old vanilla.

Consider its humble base taste…it is often the brunt of those who refer to things as
just being average..as in vanilla, as in plain jane, as in generic, as in nothing special,
as in the bottom of the list.

Yet vanilla is a great building base—a needed and important humble building block.
Imagine Chocolate chip cookies without that added splash of vanilla.
Think vanilla bean ice-cream, sour cream pound cake, pannacotta, rice pudding,
milkshakes, protein shakes, puddings, eclairs, cookies, candy, yogurt, chewing gum,
cosmetics, perfumes, aromatherapies…the list is nearly endless….
all without their needed vanilla.

There are four main types of vanilla beans used in our consumption: Tahitian, Indonesian,
Mexican and Madagascar

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/4-kinds-vanilla-beans-know

There are however those purists out there who do indeed favor the unadulterated flavor
of that simple, smokey, sweet, floral flavor of just plain old fashioned vanilla.
No swirls of caramel, no colorful sprinkles, not bits of cookie or peppermint or toffee,
or chocolate syrup or diced fruit…just simple, plain old vanilla.

So I suppose I might just have a little problem…a little expensive problem…
As we might all just have a largely flavorless problem…

Here’s to hoping the current growing crop thrives…
hopefully in time for this summer’s long-awaited and even yearned for home-churned ice cream…
because it just won’t be summer without a bowl of fresh homemade vanilla ice cream!!!

There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are
a precious jewel.

Proverbs 20:15

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

sweet and precious

“Promise me you’ll always remember:
You’re braver than you believe,
and stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think.”

A.A. Milne

Ordinary riches can be stolen;
real riches cannot.
In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.

Oscar Wilde

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(our resident fawn / Julie Cook / 2016)

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Blessings for a peace filled Sunday….

Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;

Isaiah 43:4-5

the law

“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation:
they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour…
If at my convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?”

― Charlotte Brontë

“It is impossible to enslave, mentally or socially, a bible-reading people.
The principles of the bible are the groundwork of human freedom.”

― Horace Greeley

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(Santa Rosa Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2016)

Oh, how I love your law, O Lord
It is my meditation all day long.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth.
The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
You word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
Your decrees are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
Your statutes have been my song,
wherever I make my home.
My lips will pour forth praise,
because you teach me your statutes.
My tongue will sing of your promise,
for all your commandments are right

(Psalm 119: 97-115, paraphrased
taken from The Divine Hours
Prayers for summertime
Phyllis Tickle)

Have we all but lost the way of the psalmist…
the one who sings with reckless joy regarding a love so pleasant and sweet…
steeped in the law of God?

Have we allowed our fallen brokeness,
that which stirs within us the spirit of rebellion,
to replace our abiding pleasure in God’s law with
repugnance for any and all holy command?

Rarely is a song now sung…
Seldom does a heart beam and rejoice…
Hardly ever are the virtues proclaimed…
in the holy writ of the Law…

Rather…
there is revelry…
there is abandonment
and there is hedonism in the restless sea of self…
as the flag of all things free is hoisted high above the madness.

It was to be a blanket of care and safety….
A rule of life…
A safety net catching those who stumble and fall…

To listen,
to abide,
to follow….
would have, could have, been so simple.

Life could have been so sweet…

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.
The one who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

John 14:21

Awaiting the harvest

Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain.
James 5:7

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(wild pears / Julie Cook / 2014)

Some years the lone wild pear tree, perched deep in the woods, bears a bountiful crop. For what and for whom is uncertain as these are not the succulent pears of Anjou or Sekel. These are small hard bitter pears that neither deer nor raccoon will eat.

Other years this lone little tree yields but a single pear, perhaps two, maybe even three.
No matter whether there are baskets, or not, overflowing with fruit nor that the fruit is edible—the tree bears in both times that are lean and times that are plentiful.

The love of the masterful Creator, the omnipotent Father, equally bears a bountiful crop. At times it is a wonder as to what and for whom that bountiful love should be made available. Yet the crop is never exclusive nor sparse. The basket is open to any and all who may wish to reach in.

In times both lean and plentiful, the basket remains full. The harvest is always plentiful, yet those who choose to partake may often be few. The availability is never lacking. The basket overflows with a greater abundance than imaginable. The fruit is never bitter, always sweet.

However the time will come when the harvest and the season will draw to an end.
The abundance will wane.
The tree will be bare.
The basket will quickly empty.
Who will be left wanting
and
Who will remain full?

Ode to a sweet peach

“A Georgia peach, a real Georgia peach, a backyard great-grandmother’s orchard peach, is as thickly furred as a sweater, and so fluent and sweet that once you bite through the flannel, it brings tears to your eyes.”
Melissa Fay Greene, ‘Praying for Sheetrock’

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(Peaches /Julie Cook / 2014)

Shhh don’t tell, but these are South Carolina Peaches.
There is nothing more splendid than a summer’s ripe peach. . .

““““““““““` ““““““““““ ““““““““

Visiting cousins, who lived on a small rural farm in mid eastern Georgia, a young city girl, no more than 7, always made an immediate bee line for the orchard.
Standing small before a bountiful quest, yellow jackets zipping from tree to tree, she saw the challenge and heard the call.

Hand over hand–lifting each leg up a tad higher, tender limb upon limb, this little girl would climb higher and further until reaching the tallest branch.
Here hung the largest, the sweetest and ripest fruit.
Peach trees are not tall trees, but to a little girl, they might as well have been giants.

Haphazardly and full of trepidation, she’d unsteadily reach out with one free hand while clinging desperately to the tree with the other small hand.
Barely yet triumphantly grasping the fuzzy prize.

Settling back in the crook of the tree, yellow jackets vying for the first bite,
the young girl held the furry ball to her nose breathing in the heady fragrance.
Savoring the nano second before taking the giant juicy bite, she eagerly bites through the fuzzy outer layer, releasing a flood of sweet nectar which trickles down her chin.

As summers long past come flooding sweetly back with the sight of a single peach . . .