During this time of year we are reminded of the blessings of joy and warmth. While north central Florida does not have the freezing weather for several solid months which descends on many of our northern neighbors at this time of year, we have enough for many of us to learn where our winter coats and sweaters are located and to remember how to build a fire in the fireplace.

In thinking about warmth, I considered several things during this time of year that bring joy to the heart even when the weather outside can be, at times, grey and dreary.

Here are some of the blessings I hold dear all the time, but especially this time of year.

The warmth of a rolling fire in a fireplace. A nice fire burning in a fireplace says “warmth,” “security” and, many times, as the flames leap, we remember, with clarity, the faces, voices, and scenes of many who are no longer with us or those who are precious to us but who live far away.

The warmth of a good cup of strong, black coffee is a banquet unto itself to me. I love coffee, and I will admit it. I don’t drink it all day through the day like some of my friends, but if it’s freshly perked, I will seldom turn down a cup. Sometimes people say “If it only tasted as good as it smells.” To me, it does, and the way I like it best is strong, undiluted and black. Coffee is one of the creature comforts, if you will, that I enjoy each month and in each season, but, when it’s cold and dreary outside, a piping cup of hot coffee is the BEST. Just as the fire in the fireplace may, at times, elicit certain memories, there are times, over a leisurely cup of coffee, one may have similar thoughts, remembering visits of good friends or loved ones with whom we shared visits as the coffee perked, and we shared laughter and joy.

The warmth and joy of a good book brings a smile of contentment to me. Now, on this one, you some may challenge me. But, I will relate to you, there are favorite books and stories I have read more than once, and each time I read them, I feel the comfort, reassurance, and warmth of the familiar words and passages. Whether it be classic novels, contemporary fiction, or treasured poetry, which has stood the test to time, these can bring warmth and pleasure to us at any time of the year, especially during the winter months.

Recently, in our Jasper Public Library, I saw a copy of “The Collected Stories of the Eudora Welty” with an introduction by Ann Patchett, and just the sight of that book warmed my heart. Not only could I see Eudora Welty, as I read these stories, but I could hear her reading in that flowing mellifluous, cultured voice of a native of Jackson, Mississippi. She was the master of the Southern short story, and to read, once again “Why I Live at the P.O.” engaged each sense, as I read it. Books do that for me, they engage each of the senses, sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Yes, indeed, I can taste the flavor of a good book, and savor the flavor of it, as I savor that first sip of perked coffee.

Here’s a friendly suggestion for you, if you haven’t visited the local public library in a while, go and visit. Our Suwannee River Regional Library, which serves Hamilton, Suwannee and Madison counties, provides great opportunities to savor good books and more. As an aside, many people enjoy their Kindles, and I am glad they do, but, to me, and this is personal, as is as their preference for using their Kindle, there is not much, to me, that surpasses the joy, of picking up a treasured book and reading.

Now, let’s talk about food that brings comfort, In fact, some folks call certain dishes “comfort food.” Each of us have favorites. I have a friend who says, nothing says comfort to her like her mother’s homemade chicken and dumplings, and I understand that. Another friend related to me, my aunt’s macaroni and cheese brings comfort to her, and she described it the smoothness, creaminess and richness of this dish. I could taste it, as she described it to me.

For me, I will relate to you readers, that nothing, nothings says comfort food to me like a steaming helping of well-seasoned grits. I know some of you are smiling, and a few may even be laughing, but read along with me. Not everyone is an accomplished “Grits Chef.” Wait a minute, you are really laughing now, and asking: “Did he pair the words ‘Grits’ and ‘Chef’?” Yes, I did, because there is an art to preparing a pot of creamy grits cooked down to the right consistency that are seasoned just right with “just enough” salt, “just enough” black pepper and “just enough” butter. Unlike many folks, I don’t need my grits loaded with cheese, although I do love good cheese grits, nor anything else, IF the Chef who is preparing the grits is adept at “turning out” a wonderful and, to me, a “beyond” comforting helping of well salted, just a dash of black pepper, and well buttered girts. Yes, indeed, comfort, joy and knowing as I taste that first spoon full; the anticipated celebration of warmth, joy and memory.

From reading this column, you may be thinking, pretty simple, a nice fire in the fireplace, and a cup of coffee, a good book, and a bowl of grits, what is complicated about that? Not much, but the fire must be roaring at a pace commensurate with the size of the fireplace, the cup of coffee must be strong and steaming hot. The book must take me “out of myself” to another place with its sometimes familiar but well-written words, and the grits must be hot and seasoned “just right.”

What is “just right”? Just right is “just right” whether you are alone, or enjoying these simple, and yet extraordinarily wonderful blessings with someone you love.

From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.

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