Clowns to the left, jokers to the right…

“Well I don’t know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain’t right,
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.”

Lyrics from Stuck in the Middle with You
Stealers Wheel

“And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.”

Martin Luther

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(an abandoned gristmill stone, Cables Mill, Cades Cove, The Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Townsend, TN / Julie Cook / 2015)

A two front war…it’s what Churchill longed for and what Hitler loathed.

As soon as the US threw her hat into the ring, following the attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler had set his sights on Russia, Churchill at long last knew that it was now only a matter of time before Hitler would crumble as the result of fighting a two front war.

History tells us that a two front war is a very difficult prospect for any warring nation as it requires a vast wealth of fresh troops, endless resources, new equipment, ample food, unending ammunition and free flowing cash in order to keep the fighting machine well fed.

It is exhausting and vastly draining on multiple national levels.

It is the ultimate squeeze play…a forcing of the hand…with all cards having to be be played at the same time as there is no longer the luxury of hiding anything…it’s now or never.

And that’s exactly how our ancient adversary enjoys plaguing us most…
Squeezing us on multiple fronts, diverting all of our energies, our attentions, our resources, our nerves, our health, all as we battle multiple opponents on multiple levels simultaneously.

It is disheartening, physically and emotionally exhausting, depressing, and very near crushing.
Defeat almost inevitably appears to be galloping toward us on the horizon as the specter of Death raises his scythe for the final blow….

And it is at that exact moment when we gratefully hear the rallying cry…

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God
words and music by Martin Luther

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46: 1-3,7

(****whereas to many Martin Luther’s name cries of derision, division and contempt, these ancient words speak to all Christians…Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant alike as we, the collective followers of Christ, continue finding ourselves pitted against an ancient foe who neither tires nor grows weary of making our lives miserable—it behooves us to always remember that we never go into battle alone)

Hidden support along one’s way…

“If then we have angels, let us be sober, as though we were in the presence of tutors; for there is a demon present also.”
― John Chrysostom

Human beings, when confronted with the strange and inexplicable, have an immediate instinct to get back to the accustomed and the normal. We do not hug our miracles close; we put them hastily away, preferring the commonplace to live with it. It is as if some compulsive hand wipes clean the wall on which the handwriting appeared.” Fulton Oursler

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(Cherub relief found within St Colmcille Church, Dumcliff / County Sligo, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The journey has been long as you now find yourself winded,
growing more and more weary with the setting of each day’s sun…
Thoughts of tomorrow and one more day are almost more than you can bear.
The energy and the strength, which were once easily called upon at will…
simply no longer available.

Maligned
Belittled
Mocked
Forgotten
Tired
Weary
Empty

Yet pressing on is really the only option…
Business as usual as you wade through the motions of the routine
Can you bear to manage one more season?

The joy has faded into the common
The noise of the worldly drowns out the sublime
Too much, too little, too late, too soon

The secular now shines the brightest
With your frustration overshadowed by the Darkness.
Hopefulness waits at the window staring out onto the confusion

An unseen hand is offered when most needed
A smile appears to fend off the cold
The chill is thwarted by the inviting fire
Encouragement offers a welcoming blanket

This journey has long been previously traveled,
As comfort resides in the familiar.
There are no surprises to the unseen…
No hurdles that haven’t been previously crossed.
There are those who have gone before you…
and those who will continue to come from behind.
The journey is never really lonely

As we never travel truly alone…

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:12-19

Rest for the weary

The scorched land will become a pool
And the thirsty ground springs of water;
In the haunt of jackals, its resting place,
Grass becomes reeds and rushes.

Isaiah 35:7

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(Dried thistle along the banks of the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I was weary…
dry and brittle of body, heart and soul…
Yet you Oh Lord have heard me in my distress.
You have seen to my weariness…
to the dryness and brittle spirit which as clung to me like an ashen paste.
You have refreshed and soothed a parched and thirsty heart

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(the wild Atlantic somewhere along the Dingle Peninsula / County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

You have attended to a wounded soul…
My offering to you is a simple thankfulness that reaches to the depths of the sea
And the width of an endless sky…

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(somewhere along the road in County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”

Isaiah 58:11

Song for the innocents

A clear and innocent conscience fears nothing.
Elizabeth I

The Righteous person must suffer many things; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Psalm 34

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(field sparrow / Julie Cook / 2015)

Broken hearted,
like a bird’s broken wing,
a soul far too weary, before its time,
longs to lift its voice. . .

Tears freely flow for the innocents,
those who are not so free,
savagely taken in a dark world
now grown callous and cold. . .

Who are these people who gleefully seek
the spilt blood of the Lamb?
Who relish in death and scorn life,
Who long to take rather than give. . .

What is the point in this latest battle?
Consuming each and every life until
there are no more lives to give?
This, as the parents weep
and the Nations grieve. . .

You and You alone hear our anguish,
and You see the captive’s pain.
You stand beside the brokenhearted mothers and fathers,
as the news is delivered. . .
Where does the savagery stop?

Our hope, Oh Lord, is in You and You alone,
as we dwell within a dark and fallen world. . .
Battered minds seek nothing more than to be numb,
burying themselves in things other than the actual,
Thinking that what is not seen or acknowledged,
will all simply disappear. . .

Those with purpose are quickly called. . .
The innocent and clear of conscious,
who ready themselves to do battle. . .
to offer compassion where there is none
To offer hope to the hopeless. . .

When will the just say no to injustice?
When will the children be saved?
When will the captives be set free?
When will the darkness scatter?
When will this madness end?

Our trust is found in Christ, Jesus
The One who overcame death.
The body may perish,
Yet the soul will not be silenced.
As the battles wage on
and evil rejoices,
while the faithful exclaim. . .
“O death where is thy sting”

Repay not evil with evil or railing with railing, but rather bless, and know that you are called to do this, so that you should inherit the blessing.
1 Peter 3:9

****Here is a link to the BBC story featuring the single letter Kayla Mueller, the young kidnapped American, wrote her parents regarding her time in captivity as a prisoner of IS (ISIS). She sent the letter out with fellow prisoners who were released as she was the lone female prisoner kept behind. Kayla turned 26 while in captivity. Kayla had gone to Syria, working with the humanitarian organization Hayata Destek, Support To Life, in order to help the refugee orphaned children in Syria whose lives had been displaced and shattered by the ongoing fighting. Kayla conducted art therapy projects with the kids, as children can often express themselves in drawings when words cannot be found. She noted that when the children asked her” where was her world” –then telling them, they asked why had her people not come to help them. . .her response was simply to cry along with and for the children. . .Prayers for the Mueller family and all the families globally who have been affected by IS —her family noted that Kayla “lived life with purpose”—may we all live with such purpose. . .
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-31376933

Very soon

The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions – the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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(faded, frozen and spent crepe myrtle and loropetalum buds and blooms / Julie Cook / 2015

Somewhere ’round a corner, in the secret garden of my mind
I thought I caught of glimpse of things that now are hard to find.

What stands before me now is simply lifeless browns and greys
Yet soon this empty landscape will bask in sunny rays.

Lifelessness and emptiness will soon be long departed
As hopefulness and happiness are finally getting started. . .

Here’s to the secret garden within all our winter weary hearts and minds. . .

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(hyacinth and tiny garden buds / Julie Cook / 2015)

En Masse

Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.
Carl Jung

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(an October Georgia evening as a flock of starlings seek a place to roost for the night / Julie Cook / 2014)

Their numbers are limitless.
Their sound is deafening.
Their precision is inspiring.
They are just a bunch of birds,
and yet. . .they represent so much more. . .

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Upon first glance, it appears as if there is a giant moving, living, breathing black cloud undulating overhead.
It glides across the sky to and fro, with no particular rhyme nor reason.
It is not following the current of the wind as it sets its own course.
It defies any law of gravity as it goes where it chooses, when it chooses.
The cloud descends, en masse, onto power lines or within the tops of trees with a deafening din of chatter.
It is as masterful as it is precise.
It is greater and more artfully versed than any human could ever hope to choreograph.

To watch a flock of birds in flight, especially a large mass of birds such as starlings and / or blackbirds, is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of birds in one maddening swarm move in and out, up and down, shifting and weaving with such precision, it’s simply difficult to comprehend.

These birds, although individuals, combine to make what appears to be a single living and breathing mass or entity which for all apparent purposes appears to have a mind of its own.
They, these individual birds, must interact with such agility and precision as not to fly into one another as well as avoid colliding with trees and / or power poles. Their ability to work effortlessly in tandem is nothing short of humbling.

As I stand staring, as if in a hypnotic trance, gazing skyward–listening and watching the ethereal ariel spectacle, my mind fumbles for words. I think of the verse in Matthew, Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

That the omnipotent one true God of all of Creation knows the birds.
That He knows each bird. . .
Each bird in this massive, confusing swarm of precise madness, and yet. . .
I am told that He also knows me.
He knows me even more so then He knows these birds.
Knows, as in an intimate relationship. . .
as in everything known and hidden, good and bad. . .as He is said to have formed me (knit me together) in my mother’s womb. . .
the same mother I never knew, yet it is He who knew me. . .even before I was formed, He knew me. . .
I am also told He cares for me more so than these birds.
These birds who are able to dance across the sky with grace and magic, soaring and diving in grand unison.
And yet, He is aware of me.
More than aware. . .He has a deep abiding knowledge which goes beyond acquaintance.
He knows, He sees, He loves.

And as I continue staring at a black cloud dancing across the horizon, a tremendous sense of well being engulfs a weary soul. . .

In need of a little comfort?

As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

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(Freshly baked Breton Biscuits / Julie Cook / 2014)

Where do you go when you find yourself out of sorts, stressed, tired?
Where does your heart wander when it is wounded, sad, heavy?
Where do your spirits travel when your world is rocked, your day is shot, your feelings weary?

To the kitchen, that’s where!!

I confess that I’ve been feeling a bit blue and out of sorts as of late. . .blasé
—the trees didn’t help. . .
. . .but I don’t want to talk about that.
I was flipping though my most recent edition of Saveur Magazine when I found myself stopping on one particular page.
One word stopped me. . .
Butter

If there is one little thing that screams “let me comfort you my dear” it’s the real deal unctuous amalgamation of cream and salt.
Butter.
YUMMMMMMMM

The article was entitled Butter Queen showcasing a Brittany (region in France) specialty, Gâteau Breton or Gallettes bretonnes–better known as a light, delicate, sandy textured butter cookie.
That’s what I’m talking—-a light hearted version of a shortbread!!
Comfort is now a recipe away!!

So let’s make a little comfort shall we. . .

This particular recipe is originally from Le Cordon Bleu’s cookies edition as taken from the Joy of Baking
A recipe for Sables—the French Butter cookie (how many names can a little butter cookie have?!)
It’s a simple no fuss cookie. It can serve as a canvas for the adventuresome and creative, or simply as pure pleasure for the purist.

Here’s what you’ll need:
–10 tablespoons (140) grams unsalted butter, room temperature (Plugra, Presidents or other European brands)
–1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
–1 large egg (organic)
–1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (my homemade brew)
–2 cups(260 grams) all purpose flour (unbleached King Author
–1/2 teaspoon baking powder
–1/4 teaspoon salt (Real Salt Kosher)
Egg Wash–1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

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Is it just me or is red a dominant color on the pallet of my products of choice?
When you make something as simple as a butter cookie, it is key to have the very best ingredients in your repertoire available as there are so few ingredients involved. With butter being the primary , the best butter you can get your hands on is crucial. Plugra is a great US butter which is out of Texas and handcrafted in the tradition of European butter–meaning it has a higher butter fat content–making for a richer, more savory creamy product—
(see the previous post:
https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/butter-and-lent/ )

I’ve chosen President, a French butter for a French cookie, mais non?

I’ve copied the original recipe here:

Sables: In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat just until incorporated. Do not over mix the dough.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough a few times to bring it together, and then divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least an hour).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove one portion of the dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough until it is 1/4 inch (1 cm) thick. Using a lightly floured 2 inch (5 cm) round fluted cookie cutter, cut out the cookies, placing them on the prepared sheet. Place the baking sheet of cut out cookies in the refrigerator for about 15 -20 minutes to chill the dough. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg with the water for the egg wash. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and brush the tops with the egg wash. Then, with the tines of a fork (or I like to use the end of a toothpick), make a crisscross pattern on the top of each cookie. Bake cookies in the preheated oven for about 12 – 14 minutes (depending on size of cookie) or until golden brown around the edges.

Cool cookies on wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
(using a 3 inch cutter gave me a larger cookie which numbered 18 total)

My organic eggs, since I’ve yet to procure “my girls” for the very real deal :

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The recipe calls for the use of a 2 inch cookie / biscuit cutter however I used a 3 inch cutter, making for a tad larger cookie. Instead of 3 dozen cookies I had 18. If you wanted to be festive, I don’t know why you couldn’t use fun cookie cutters, say pumpkins, or leaves, or turkeys, or snowmen. . .as these are not sugar cookies but a rolled and cut cookie all the same.

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I’m not a big fan of egg wash as I think it “yellows” the top of the cookie and “seals” the tops often allowing the cookies to get mushy after a day or so rather than staying nice and crisp–when I make these again, I won’t use egg. . .

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When you use a fork to crisscross the top of the cookies, use the back of the fork–the front of the fork will cause the soft raw cookies to pull–the back keeps the lines smooth.

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Not too sweet with a slight saltiness offering a clean buttery finish.
These could be fun little ice-cream sandwich base cookies or another type of filling sandwiched lovingly between theses thin little butter wafers of wonderment or even dipped in melted chocolate for a chocolate dipped sandy. . .skies the limit, but I prefer the simple buttery goodness.

Pure Comfort to be sure
Bon Appétit

If You’re Afraid of Butter, Use Cream
Julia Child

Happiness to you on a Friday

Happiness is neither without us nor within us.
It is in God, both without us and within us

Blaise Pascal

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(Gulf Fritillary butterfly visiting an impatient / Julie Cook / 2014)

By the time Friday usually rolls around, aren’t we all just simply spent from the demands and activities of the previous days of the week?
Are we not found to be by Thursday weary, tired, beat, worn out, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, exhausted–mentally, physically, emotionally and even, for some, spiritually. So much so that by the time Friday morning rolls around, it’s difficult to peel ourselves out of the bed in order to get going.

Or maybe, just maybe, by Friday morning, we’re oh so ready for the weekend, we hop right up, ready to get Friday under out belts so we can “have” our weekend. But let’s not talk about the countless who have no weekend, as their schedules require work and demands just as on a Monday or a Tuesday, or, well, you get the point.

Adding to that weariness, for so very many across this country, school has started its new season–life, for both young and old alike, is kicking it up a notch to an ultra radical level of pace. There’s now the struggle to reset the rhythm and routine. Getting adjusted back to the rigors of a demanding and exhausting schedule for the long and arduous “school year.” Just thinking about it is exhausting.

According to the calendar, with the festivities of the weekend ready to get underway, Summer will come to its official end. That whole 3 day weekend thing just sweetened the pot of “living for the weekend” when there’s a holiday in the making. We can get through any drudgery of any week if a holiday gets tacked on at the end, right?

So if this Friday is finding you a tad tired, worn, bedraggled, shell-shocked, or a little too excited over forthcoming weekend festivities, I thought it might be helpful if I shared a little visual happiness. . .here’s to surviving the week and for hopefully surviving the weekend. . .all with a little added touch of visual happiness. . .behold the Passion Butterfly or as it is officially known, the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. . .

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A consuming light

“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

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(rain clouds linger in the late afternoon mid west Georgia sky / Julie Cook / 2014

Our days grow dark and worry abounds
When a deafening crescendo of exploding bombs breaks the tired silence
Wary souls now tremble in the shadows

As the planes fall strangely from the sky,
We know that Madness wanders the eroding land
Bleeding children lie stretched out in pleading arms,

Lessons learned long ago are easily now forgotten
We were warned but no one listened
Right and wrong collide madly into one. . .
Hell is happy here today.

20 lives
200 lives
300 lives
Each new day brings a sad new number
As the question begs–why?

We watch
We wait
We plead
We hope

And as we wonder when is enough enough,
with the last ray of faith growing helplessly dim,
a brilliant light victoriously pierces the blackened sky

As the battles wage onward across a sad weary land,
and with smoke circling like vultures over our trembling heads,
Courage and Strength rally the faithful few

For despite this unending march of Death,
as tears are shed and blood is spilled
Peace and Calm unite in Hope
for this bloody War is already won. . .

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Isaiah 42:5-7