Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Calling All Instagrammers!

Tuesday came knocking this morning, dragging a brilliant sun and a biting chill in behind her. I'm happy to see that blue sky, though, and the light in here this morning is perfect.

The latest Valentine's Day cloths from Balm and Honey. Love!
Are you on Instagram? If so, I want to tell you about a giveaway I'm doing over at Balm and Honey. Follow @balmandhoney on Instagram anytime now through Valentine's Day and be automatically entered to win one of the handknit House Helpers above. What? Yes. No purchase required or anything, just pull up Instagram right now, follow @balmandhoney, and your name goes straight into the drawing. The winner will be announced Valentine's Day at 8 PM on Instagram. So... follow @balmandhoney... live your life... then watch Instagram Valentine's night to see if you're the lucky winner!

If you've been wanting a chance to try these cloths, now's your chance to win one. (Have you seen the super fun feedback that's coming in from my Balm and Honey customers? Agh. So fun. I think it's my favorite part of being an Etsy gal... except for the knitting, of course.) The only caveat: domestic US entries only, please. I love you out-of-the-US-gals, too, but our USPS is getting grumpier about shipping outside our lower 48. Thanks for understanding!

See you Instagrammers in a few. And everyone, hope you have a perfectly nice Tuesday. Thanks, as ever, for your support and love. We need each other. -Brin 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Monday Moment: Beautiful God

And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: 
and establish thou the work of our hands...
-Psalm 90:17

He is a beautiful, beautiful God Who makes beautiful, beautiful things. Among them: roses and lemons, which I used over the weekend to make some blushed, fragrant rose petal jam.

Soon we will see His beauty face to face! But may you be encouraged by God's beauty today, even as He works around you. -Brin

Monday Moment is a little devotional to help kick start your week. See you again next time!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Great Wall of the Front Room

There's something about these winter months that draw me inside and inward, I think, wanting stretches of quiet and solitude and time to think. Space to just... be. I apologize if my winter wantings have left you feeling lonely around here as of late. As way of a proper apology, I have a bit of a Front Room update.

Ah, the odd, long Front Room. Remember this picture from the summer? This room has been such a challenge. It stretches almost the entire width of Hedge House and is a surprising room to step into from off the breezy porch. I felt it the first time the door swung aside and let me into this funnily carved-out house. Whatever you're expecting to find inside, it isn't what greets you. It isn't this room. Everyone who visits experiences it, too. I know this from the startled "ohhh!" or "wow" or "huh" sounds that sneak out of first-time visitor's lips before they're in with both feet. This house is a hodge-podge of oddly proportioned and strangely positioned rooms and corners and doors. I adore it.

But back to the Front Room. It is long but shallow, with an enormous fireplace and mirror on one side (the "Great Wall", as I call it), and a gigantic picture window on the opposite end. In between the imposing mirror and its opposite window sits a room with original parquet wood floors and a looming ceiling. It's impossible to arrange furniture in and harder, still, to decorate. It was also difficult to choose a paint color; my go-to colors looked chalky by the windows but almost violet by the mirror. I finally settled on Sherwin-Williams' Neutral Ground for the walls and Westhighland White for the trim. These, too, I adore. 

This past weekend, my Dad stopped by and helped disconnect and remove the 70+ year old Reznor gas heater from the fireplace. (At some point, the fireplace was outfitted for natural gas and a jet was run into the fire box.) It was a sad-looking relic and I was glad to see its grimy self eased out the door. In its absence, I got my first real look at the fireplace box. It appears as though a 1960s/1970s update saw busted tile cemented to the hearth floor, and faux tile paneling slapped on the front facade. This, obviously, needs updating. Soon.

There has been much discussion, too, about the mirror above the fireplace. Some family and the odd visitor insists it must stay. Others look at me quizzically and (try to) casually comment on how they're surprised the mirror wasn't the first thing I removed. One of Josh's cousins even refers to it as the Elvis Mirror. Truth: I don't like it at all. But, it does bounce a lot of light around the room. I think I'd have to frame it out... give it some side panels to match the original mantle below and some thick, appropriately beautiful crown molding along the top. I just don't know. Where everyone agrees is that the mirror cannot stay as it is. 

 So, an ongoing project for sure. (What I wouldn't give for Chip and Joanna Gaines to break down in front of my house one random afternoon this week. But... wouldn't we all? Ha.) Once I address the mirror and the mantle and the firebox, and once I arrange the shelves as I intend to, I think I'll call this wall done. And then it's back to the kitchen. Oh man. Could I ever use Joanna for the kitchen!

But that's a whole different story for an entirely different day... 

Hope you're well, friend, and staying warm today. It's good to be back. -Brin

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Mess Of Life

The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life.  
God answers the mess of life with one word: 'grace.'
-Max Lucado

I'm still here. Just wrapped up in warm blankets and big questions and consuming projects. Hope you are well, friends.  -Brin

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Handmade Feelings

 When you buy something made by a person,
there is something special there, and you do feel it.
The consciousness with which a thing is made
is often more important than the thing itself.
- J. Donald Waters

I agree with that first part, for sure: when you hold something made by hand, it is special, and you do feel it.

In the process of rebranding Balm & Honey in time for this spring's big honey/candle/soap/lotion introduction, I was told to write 150 words or less on what my little business is about. Uhhhhh... hmmm. It took awhile. Eventually, I typed: 

Balm & Honey came from a heart-aching yearn for simple, authentic products. 
We knit, keep bees, make soap, and dip candles for beloved customers.

It isn't quite what I'm going for, but it's a start.

Last week, I finally (!!) received an invitation to venture inside Ms. Nell's house. Oh, y'all. That place came straight out of a book. Everything she has tells a story... is a story. Whether we were standing in her little sitting room with the coal burning fireplace, or chatting in the huge, bright kitchen, every item came from someone or was made by someone. You could feel it in her house- that special feeling. She knits, too, so we compared handknit cloths. What is that intangible presence we sense when holding something another has made? It's recognition, maybe, that the thing had a life even before it got to us. That someone, somewhere, used their breath and brain and being to add something to the world that wasn't there before, and never would have been had they not been born. Ugh. Call me ridiculous, but I don't know if there's a way to overstate how much this means to me.

Anyway. A big batch of colorful, handknit cloths is in the shop and ready to start their life with someone new. Hurry over if you want to take a peek... five have already sold since I started typing this post!

Wishing you that handmade-special-feeling sort of day. -Brin

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Masters and Keepers (The Beauty and Necessity of Bud+Bee+You+Me)

Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made
and forgot to put a soul into.
-Henry Ward Beecher 

We had to chase the Master Gardeners out of my beekeeper's association meeting last night so we could begin on time. The Masters (as I call them)- revered, wise, and weathered- are a motley crew of wrinkled old ladies, sun-beaten old men, and the odd, fresh-faced hipster. I'm in awe of them. They know Latin names for everything and there's nothing they haven't seen.

The Masters line up their latest obsessions in our shared gardening/beekeeping room. (The Masters and the Keepers- as beekeepers are called- are graciously respectful of each other.) The Masters also keep wild-looking, experimental plants under sagging, beaming grow lights in the corner of our room. There are new specimens every month: in January and February there are yellow and white bulbs nodding in test tubes and expertly labeled. March through May ushers in seedlings of all kinds: tomatoes, peppers, squash, and melons. Along June until October, herbs and grasses and so.many.flowers and every vegetable God gave a seed sprawl into the room. November and December roll around and they've vased up Henbit or Camellias or Red Maples. I'm fascinated, always.

Even if you've never given a solitary thought to flowers and bees, both are necessary for your life as you know it. Truly. Buds and blooms provide carbohydrates (nectar) and protein (pollen) for the bees. With it, they make food (honey) to sustain their colony. In doing so, they pollinate roughly one out of every three foods you'll eat today... and many of the wild plants you'll never give a thought to today. The bud-bee-you-me relationship is beautifully symbiotic. God may not have put a soul in flowers or bees, but He did intersect them with ours.

It occurred to me last night, while looking carefully around the room of Masters and Keepers, that these people are the unsung heroes of life as we've come to know it. Forget the athletes and crooners and celebrities. These people, with their borage and bent backs and bee suits, these people are changing the world. While the Masters plant and prune and pull nourishing plants, the Keepers breed and box and bolster the languishing bee. Together, they are fighting a tidal wave of chemicals and disease and urbanization and every dreaded and terrible thing man is doing to kill-off nature and wellness.

God help and bless the Masters and Keepers....

-     -     -     -     -

Yesterday's bee meeting and this morning's Floret Flowers announcement prompted the writing of this intro to a manifesto. (Forgive me.) Want to support or join the Masters/Keepers? Start by planting some bee-friendly seeds this year- in a pot, in a bed or garden, or in a vacant lot. Floret's now selling their beautiful seeds, and, of course, I'm an occasional visitor and longtime fan of Wildseed Farms. Their regional wildflower mixes are perfection. I beg you: plant something, feed a bee, and do what you can this year to support our unsung heroes.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Monday Moment: Daily Bread

Give us today our daily bread.
-Jesus, Matthew 6:11

Commentaries and controversies abound regarding Jesus' model prayer in Matthew 6. Give us this day our daily bread. It sounds straightforward in English. It is not, however, in Luke's Greek or Matthew's (purported...maybe) Hebrew. (Pastors and seminary people, don't crawl out of your skin regarding that last sentence, okay? I'm aware it's fraught with debatable goodies.)

I've done a little reading up on this innocent-seeming verse because it's slammed me so hard this new year. My prayers, I've realized, have gotten selfish. Ridiculous, even. Much of what I'm hearing myself pray for is... telling, I guess... of where my heart has wandered and what treasures I'm wanting to lay up. Ouch. 

What have you been praying for lately?

"Truth is, I think, if God just gave us our daily bread, many of us would be angry. 'That's all you're going to give me? You're just going to give me enough to sustain me for today? What about tomorrow or next year or 10, 20, 30 years from now? I want to know that I'm set up.' And yet Jesus says just pray for your daily provisions." -Francis Chan

Monday Moment is a little devotional to help kick start your week. See you again next time!

(The bread pictured is what we had for yesterday's "daily bread" and is the standard boule recipe made from my favorite bread book of all time.)*

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Stillness, Noise and Chasing Out the Agony

In the summer she kept roses in a vase on the piano, 
huge, pungent roses, and when the blooms ripened and the petals fell, 
she put them in a tall Chinese jar, with cloves and thyme and sticks of cinnamon.
-Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping
The roses are still blooming. I mention it again because it's such a marvel to me: frothy, pungent roses in January. I realize, intellectually, that this is a symptom of chaotic weather patterns and even, perhaps, a petaled harbinger of strange weather to come. But today it doesn't matter. Today, I have roses, and today that's beautiful enough for me.

I've been drying and saving petals, just like the "competent" character in Housekeeping. I've also started making my own rose water (watch this pretty 2 minute tutorial here) and using it in a room spray and in a honey-infused, natural face wash. And yesterday I added the delicately scented water to a beeswax and comfrey salve I'm making for my dry, winter-stricken hands. I literally, seriously, gasped when I smoothed it on my hands after washing dishes last night. Oh my. I must, must, must figure out how to make bigger batches and share with others. That salve was... instant solace.

It's quiet here this morning but my mind is a noisy, churning machine. I suppose that's why I appreciate the stillness of an empty, hushed house when I'm alone here; it's so loud in my head that additional sound competes and frustrates. Does anyone else experience that?

Perhaps it's because I'm also knee deep in the book. Ah, the book. The characters are alive now... seemingly as real to me as friends I seldom see. Maya Angelou once said that There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. That agony has weighed so heavily on me these past 8 years, but the load is shifting now, and soon I'll be able to put it down. The story will, in a couched-in-fiction sort of way, be told this year. It terrifies me and vindicates me and affords me the chance to give that real-life story the ending it will never have. Is this why others write? I sat in Starbucks last week, face toward the wall, silent tears burning channels down my cheeks, and became so overcome by the emotion of it all that I got up and left. Right then.

Okay. So roses and a tutorial and a salve preview/plug and a working book mention. Does this count as a blog post? I'm hitting that bright orange "Publish" button anyway....

Is it Wednesday? Ah. Happy mid week, friends. -Brin

(There was an Amazon affiliate link in there somewhere. I think we're supposed to say that now, right?)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The 2016 Threshold

Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering 'it will be happier'...
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

I was so glad to see 2016. It was welcome even if it did come barreling over the threshold first thing- without knocking- and yank open the drapes and say, without so much as looking over its shoulder, I'm here. Get up and say hello.

Hello, 2016. Come on in. We all just hope you are happier than your predecessor.

How were your holidays? Mine were stuffed- stuffed with miles and meals and masses and musts. I was relieved to pull down the tree this past weekend and start getting the place back in order. I have hopes and prayers and goals for this year. More so than in many years, I'd say. I'm eager to move forward. This year, my heart knows the new year is here.

I've been taking courses, lately, on things I want to accomplish in these dazzling 360-some-odd days that stare blankly back at me from the calendar on the fridge. One course I took was on how Make Your Blog Take Off! and Earn Six Figures From Your Blog and other bright pink and glittery headlines like that. I realized, three minutes in, that the "proven formulas" would never work for me and apparently I don't want to Make My Blog Take Off after all. The advice included things such as: pick one topic and only blog about that one thing... become an expert in your field. There was also talk about thousand dollar branding and social media platform plug-ins and paid content and coding your own sites and areyoukiddingyoudon'tuseyourowndomain and... ugh. No. I slammed my laptop shut and realized, anyway, that the blogs I read every day are just real people blogs... and none of them are professional content payers or paid photographers. I guess I'm the only one left who clicks off things that seem too slick. I explained it all to Josh, who believes fervently that I can monetize if put the effort in, and told him it isn't me. It's just not (even 2016) me, I said. I don't want a blogging empire. I just want a rose garden in that back corner over there.

One thing I am trotting out, however, is a re-launched and beautifully branded Balm and Honey. (Which is bare-shelved for the next few hours because you wonderful people keep buying me out. Thank you!) I am excited about that. This spring will see, God willing, the rolling out of honey and honey-based products: raw, natural Texas honey... beeswax candles... natural soaps... and lotion potions. And more House Helpers, of course. (Always those. Always.) I tried out my Vanilla Latte honeyed soap as gifts this year and got some rave reviews, which gave me just the confidence I needed to decide to go all out. I suppose I just have this vision of having one of those creaky, old houses that has furniture polished with beeswax in rooms that smell faintly of beeswax candles, honey soap and flowers. I want that, and I want the world to have that, too. Balm and Honey. Solace and sweet for the home. Hope that whispers from the thresholds that this year will be... happier. 

We can only pray and stubbornly hope.

Happy new year, friends. Praying God's kindest and best presence and blessings in your life this year.  -Brin

Monday, December 21, 2015

Come, Christmas

I'm not sure about you, but this Christmas elf is ready to hang her stockings and enjoy the holiday!

I have been nonstop sewing/crafting/baking/knitting and making for a week. Hats, scarves, rose petal bath soak, herb salts, handmade soaps (like the oat and raw honey, above), cookies, breads, needlepoint gifts and photo coasters. Yesterday I had three projects working, and would toss one aside when I get stuck or frustrated or sick of looking at it, only to pick up another project and resume it. (Does anyone else do this?) But I'm beginning to see an end in sight. Everything MUST be wrapped by Christmas Eve morning, so the race is on. Oooof.

Not to be outdone, each of the three nonprofits I either run (or am an officer of) decided that this week would be a great week to meet. Do what? I feel like a magic Christmas ninja suddenly. Need an Excel treasurer's report for the beekeeper's association? Sure! Passing out 150 hats and gloves and blankets to the homeless? Absolutely! Want me to file nonprofit corp articles for a state I don't live in by Christmas? No problem. 

Come, Christmas. Come with your sit down-ed-ness and peace and hot chocolate and twinkly lights and food and... chairs. I've never needed you as badly as I do this year. Come, Christmas, come.

Wishing you rest and peace this week, friends. -Brin