Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Biscuits and Success

Put your heart, mind and soul
into even your smallest acts.
This is the secret of success.
-Swami Sivananda 

I've had so much stirring around in my mind lately. Big thoughts. Scatty thoughts. Important thoughts. Heavy thoughts. I think them as I go about my day- folding laundry, paying bills, making biscuits.

What about you? Thinking thoughts lately?

A collapse in oil prices and massive cuts in the industry have suddenly freed my time. (I should be used to it by now, after 2008 and all, shouldn't I?) Over the weekend, Josh told me I should take the time to write a book.

I wouldn't know where to start, I said.

What kind of book would you write?, he asked.

No idea, I responded. Not a clue. How do you even successfully write a book?

I've considered that question several times since I asked it. How do you even successfully write a book? As I was making biscuits, the answer came to me: how do you successfully do anything? How do you successfully make biscuits? Pay bills? Fold laundry? How do we successfully tackle that project, that goal, that dream? We throw ourselves in and at the end, there are our biscuits, our bills, our balled-up socks, our triumphs.

Time to put in our heart, mind, and souls, y'all. Time to see some success.  -Brin

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"You still have hope so don't worry."

Everything that is done in the world is done by hope. 
-Martin Luther


Thanks, you all, for the kind comments and emails. No test results yet from the doctor saying anything we don't already know. So I've been keeping busy in the meantime. Let me tell you about Valentine's Day....

So I started this little...group?...organization?...in my city called HUGS for the Homeless. Hats-Underwear-Gloves-Socks. We have a website and everything. Basically, the idea is to provide new winter and underwear- and socks- for our homeless friends because, let's face it, everyone needs clean underpants. And a warm hat and gloves. And clean socks. Especially people on the street or in shelters. 

So this Valentine's Day, I organized a little drive called Sweets for Soles. The goal was to get homemade Valentines, some candy, and lots of clean socks to 100 of my city's homeless. To be honest, I thought we'd probably do 50 and so I set my goal for double that.

Saturday, we delivered 125 Valentines. 125. You have to see the video:

While distributing those Valentines, I met a lady named Sue. Sue was excited to get new socks and grinned when she found the Snickers in her Valentines bag, but when she pulled out the Valentine someone made her, Sue started crying.

She told us that her kids are not in contact with her ever since she left their abusive father and became homeless. "I feel so forgotten and so worthless," she said. "I can't see my grandkids and woke up this morning thinking about what I'd give to see their faces or get a Valentine from them."

Thanks to everyone around here who gave, Sue wasn't alone or forgotten this Valentine's Day, and she DID get a Valentine. She told me that she will sleep with her Valentine under her pillow to remind her that someone cares.

It was the best Valentine's Day I ever had. Ever.

A TV producer from a local station contacted me yesterday and asked about the event. What was the motivation behind this?, she asked me.

Hope, I said. We all need to know that there is always hope. Or, as one kid wrote on his Valentine: You still have hope so don't worry.

We still have hope. Don't worry.

Happy belated Valentine's to you, friend. Hold out hope.  -Brin

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dreaming Again...

The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer,
the house allows one to dream in peace.
-Gaston Bachelard

It's happened again,  you guys. I have fallen in love. 

Meet the Whitaker House, a circa 1890s mansion that looks as if it could be the setting for one of my favorite girlhood books, The Velvet Room:

I took Josh to meet her over the weekend.  This is all I have ever wanted, I breathed, hand wrapping around the iron garden gate that, seemingly by magic, creaked open. I took it as an invitation. Wouldn't you? We creeped inside the brick and iron wall and just stared at the old place.

It was for sale but now it isn't. Apparently a local optometrist purchased it from the estate of an out of town doctor, but there's no word on what the eye guy intends to do with the place.

I intend to find every dollar I possibly can and pray, wish and hope beyond hope that one day the phone will ring and it will be a gruff-sounding voice on the other end saying, So, I heard you were interested in the old Whitaker place....

Not interested. Enthralled, is a better word. Utterly smitten and completely in love.

It's time to find a place to dream in peace again....

Friday, February 6, 2015

E-n-d-o-c-r-i-n-o-l-o-g-i-s-t and the Woman Subject to Bleeding and Me and Jesus

Danged if we weren't just rocking along and working and planting seeds and keeping house and minding our pet project when suddenly everything went red again.

Blood red. *shudder*

See, over the past year I've been diagnosed with a bleeding disorder. One day I'll be fine, and the next I begin bleeding out. I get anemic. My blood pressure tanks. I have no energy and do crazy things. Things like:

Me: Yes, I'm here to pay my rent. 
Rent office lady: Address?
Me: 304 Butler Street.
Rent office lady: ...typing...
Rent office lady: You said Butler Street?
Me: Yes.
Rent office lady: 304?
Me: Yes ma'am.
Rent office lady: 304 Butler Street? Are you sure?
Me: Pretty sure. Yes.
Rent office lady: ...typing again... It's just that we don't have any properties at that address. You're sure you're on Butler Street?
Me: ... ...
Rent office lady: Give me your name and I'll look it up that way.
Me: Okay. Brin  __________.
Rent office lady: Oh. Brin? I have you at a different address.
Me: What?
Rent office lady: Yes. I have you at __________________.
Me: ... ... 
Me: ...Oh. Crap it. I'm really sorry. Yes, that's the right address. 304 Butler is an old address. I'm... sorry.
Rent office lady: (weird look). Okay. I'll take that.
Me: (hands over rent check)

I cannot be trusted to handle even simple tasks like paying rent quickly when I'm in the midst of a bleed-out-athon.

So Monday, my doctor took one look at a picture I emailed to the office and said I needed to see an endocrinologist immediately. I had to look it up. E-n-d-o-c-r-i-n-o-l-o-g-i-s-t? Sounded like a bug scientist, but of course that's an e-n-t-o-m-o-l-o-g-i-s-t. Let's get our en-ologists straight, shall we? Because being sent to an insect scientist was about all I needed to make my life story complete.

So Tuesday, I was in Dallas/Fort Worth in the office of one of the most renowned endocrinologists in the U.S. Yes. In one day. God arranged that. The endocrinologist is fantastic. I liked her so much that I kinda wanted to ask if I could have a sleep-over at her house, that way when I got scared in the bathroom she would be there and could tell me in her cool and funny medicalspeak why I wasn't going to die and how women with this are totally fine and treatable. (But thank God I didn't ask. I've creeped out enough people with my bleed brain for one week.)

I got a shot that spiked my blood pressure up above 164/110+. Then I got prescribed four medications. The warning label on my favorite one says: Adverse reactions...may include constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dark stools and severe abdominal pain, hard word, hard word, hard word, metabolic acidosis, hard word, dehydration, drowsiness, pallor, hard word, lassitude, seizures, shock and coma. 

That's my favorite. I take that one at night after dinner.

So Thursday, I was sent back to the hospital and then the lab for four more tests that involved x-rays and drinking dye and lying completely still for two hours and getting my blood drawn four times in two days and so on. Endocrinologists mean business, people. 

We're hoping for word today (but likely next week) on why in the world my body is trying to empty itself of all my blood. Until then, I'm as busy as I can manage, and I'm wearing pajama pants every single moment I possibly can.

I'm also reading Luke 8 (above) over and over. I almost have it memorized. Love how the woman bled for 12 years and although no one could help her (and the account in Mark says she was getting worse), Jesus did. He could. He did. And since He went to the trouble to put it in the Bible, I almost feel like every time I read it, He's saying that He can do it again.

So today, come walk over by me, Jesus. Let me grab at the hem of your coat. Let me tell you my old addresses and ask you for a sleep-over and tell you how disgusting drinking that red stuff is and how I don't need a bug scientist, just you.

All I really need is you. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sharing Love and Being Generous

I remember what it was like leaving Freeman House and wondering what in the world to do next. I'll never forget having to crash on my parents' couch until I could get on my feet again. But thank God they were there! That experience, and work with the homeless since, has shown me one thing: homelessness can happen to anyone.

Many tend to think of homeless people as dishonest addicts, but did you know that 1 out of 3 people in most communities are homeless because of a job loss? True. While there are plenty of folks with mental illness or addiction issues, a large percentage of homeless people are on streets or in shelters simply because they can't pay rent.

That could be any of us.

Last year, I started a little group in my town called HUGS (Hats-Underwear-Gloves-Socks) for the Homeless. After mobilizing a small, but productive, group of knitters and crocheters, HUGS was able to donate over 200 hats to homeless and low income friends this winter. We also distributed 195 pairs of socks, dozens of pairs of underwear, and lots of gloves. 

So it's almost February. Inspired by this story, HUGS is on a mission to get Valentine's cards, sweets and a pair of socks to every homeless person in this city. We all need to know we are loved and not forgotten, especially on Valentine's, huh?

If you would like to help in any way-- or would like a little info on how to do something similar where you are!-- please holler. 

And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart.
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
-W. H. Auden

Friday, January 23, 2015

In the Beeginning

Women made the best beekeepers 'cause they have a
special ability built into them to love creatures that sting. 
-Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

First off: 

1. Judge not my yard lest your yard be judged. Ahem.
And 2. I start beekeeping classes tomorrow!

Y'all. I've wanted to have bees and learn how to keep a hive for days and days and days. At first it was a fleeting fancy. Then it was a mild curiosity. Then it was a can-I-actually-do-this? Now it's almost a reality. I start classes tomorrow, finish my top bar hive in February, and hopefully get my bee colony buzzing by spring.

I'm such a nerd. An excited bee-almost-keeper nerd!

I'm nervous about starting classes tomorrow. Having already read stories about hives becoming Africanized (it's a term. Look it up.) and swarming their keepers, I'm cautiously optimistic. Will they swarm? Chase small children and dogs into bodies of water? Sting me until I'm unrecognizable? Actually produce enough honey for us to eat? I plan to raise my hand and earnestly ask each of these questions, carefully copying the answers into my bee notebook, without seeming like a total bee nerd noob.

Right. Wish me luck!

Anyone out there a beekeeper? If so, please say hello. Please.
UPDATE: Upon posting, I almost immediately got word from cool Kyle that the term is "bee-ks". Heck yeah! I'm hoping they let me in their club...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Strawberries and Onions and Everything's Going to Be Okay

What good is the warmth of summer, 
without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
-John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I've been watching Foyle's War on Netflix sometimes. Days when it's not too heavy. The show is a British production set just as WWII is winding down, as food is still scarce and everyone's nerves are frayed. A recent episode showed the characters, amidst the chaos of war aftermath, being absolutely thrilled at the discovery of a large onion. An onion. They passed it around, smelling it...marveling... and the way they looked at that fresh onion was heartrending. Who would have thought an onion would invoke so much awe?

Guess it takes no onions to appreciate an onion again. Guess it takes winter for us to appreciate summer. After all, cold and gray days like today do make pictures of my summer strawberries look that much sweeter.

I continue to hear from ladies across the country who are going through hard times. Hard times. Lay offs and health issues and economic concerns have us all concerned and a little frayed at the edges. Personally, as a girl who makes a living in the oil and gas industry, this time is worrisome for me. I haven't been paid in 41 days and our freezer is emptying out by the day. Last night I got a little emotional about it. Josh reminded me that God will see us through... He's working a plan... and didn't we have everything we needed for today? 

This morning, I opened the freezer and found a small bag of homegrown strawberries wedged at the back. For some reason, I felt grateful for it all. I felt like I needed to rejoice, especially today. These times of not running to the store at every craving or new recipe has me discovering those sweet, forgotten strawberries. I mean, what good are times of plenty without times of want to make them sweeter? Would we have good, sweet memories if we didn't also have unpleasant ones?

If it takes these times to appreciate the other ones, I'll take it all. God is good. I'm sure of it. He is on His throne, He has not forsaken us, and a we have a glorious, sweet hope. Everything's going to be okay.

P.S. Check out these depression era recipes. Aren't they fascinating?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How I'm Growing Months of Potatoes for $3.99

I hope every American who possibly can 
will grow a victory garden this year. 
We found out last year that even the small gardens helped.
The total harvest from victory gardens was tremendous. 
It made the difference between scarcity and abundance. 

A few weeks ago, my local grocery store had 15 pounds of potatoes on sale for $3.99. You better believe a bag of those taters came home with me. But even after taking a meal to a couple who just had a baby and throwing potatoes in every soup pot I've made, the suckers were still sprouting faster than I could use them.

Perfect! I love it.

Did you know that when your potatoes- even normal ones, from the grocery store- begin to go wonky, you can thickly peel or slice them and use them as seed?

You can. You can grow months worth of potatoes from a $3.99 bag from the store. Really.

Let's be real: times are getting tough. And they're going to get tougher. This year I feel... I don't know... weighty conviction, almost, to plant all I can, put up all I can, and get ready to be generous. This would be loads easier if Josh and I had a farm, or even some land, but right now we're in a two bedroom house with an average size back yard and a landlord who doesn't want us to put in raised beds. In other words, we're resigned to using flower beds for now. Point? If I can do this, maybe you can, too. 

We can totally do this.

Okay. First, I'm going to take my sprouting potato and I'm going to cut it into chunks with at least two "eyes", or two buds that will start the growth of a new potato plant, on each piece. Some folks say not to do more than one or two, since the resulting vines could make a tangled mess and choke each other as they compete for nutrients. And then other people plant whole potatoes and are happy with that. I say at least two eyes is good, but I don't freak if there's more.

Some gardeners get really technical with this cutting and talk about invisible stems and tuber size and humidity and blah blah. Not me. I grab a knife and slice like a crazy person in a horror movie. My only rule? Cut big chunks about the size of my thumb, give or take. It's worked in the past.

Yesterday as I was cutting these, there were some potatoes that were mostly sprouting on one side. I simply peeled the other side and we ate them in soup last night. Once I was done slicing my sprouted taters, here's what I had:

Oh yeah. 

Since I was at the end of the sack of potatoes, I put my sprouting chunks- cut side up- on a paper lunch bag, and then put the paper bag on top of the original plastic potato sack. Then I moved it to an open, airy corner of the kitchen and let the chunks hang out for at least 24 hours. This process is called chitting- the cutting and hanging out period in a potato's life before it is planted and begins to produce.

I could draw so many parallels to that and real life but I won't today. Moving on...

(Again, depending on who you ask, there's a correct length of time to chit potatoes. The lady who runs our downtown community garden swears by cutting potatoes and planting them that instant. I watched in amazement last year as she cut a potato in half and then dropped each piece into the soil right then. And you know what? They got a decent potato crop! I like to err on the side of drying my potato pieces at least a day, though.)

After a day or two, my cut potato chunks have dried enough to plant. Yes, I know it's crazy early to be planting potatoes, but I live in Texas. It was 67 degrees yesterday. For the rest of the known world, you'll want to wait until it's dry and warm, about a week after the last frost.

And into the ground they go! You'll notice all the organic material in my soil there. I am a HUGE proponent of the Back to Eden style of gardening, and I have heavily mulched these beds the past two years. I can sink a spade about 10 inches down into the soil and it's rich and alive and gorgeous. In fact, let me show you. Here's a back bed that was NOT mulched Back to Eden style. (Note how sandy the soil is. I can barely dig into it with a shovel, it's such hard ground.)

And here's the "flower"bed with that gorgeous soil, now planted with potatoes, mulched in wood chips and spent tomato vines and Maggie's head:

World of difference!

Anyway. I'll continue planting potatoes through March, but I'm happy to have these in the ground now. Several months worth of potatoes from a $3.99 bag at the store that we also ate from? Yes please!

It's time for a victory garden revival.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Garden Dreaming

Growing your own food is like
printing your own money.
-Ron Finley

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to start printing.

Do you garden? What are you thinking of planting this year? I'm doing onions, cabbage, and potatoes again, along with peas and beans, tomatoes, green veggies and cucumbers. Maybe corn. Is it time to start seeds yet? I'm ready... I'm so ready.... 

I've been watching Urban Farming Guys videos lately and thinking of our town. We have a community garden that grows vegetables for the local homeless shelter, the food pantry and veterans. My family helped out a little last year, mainly with prepping the garden and planting. My Dad brought his tractor out and got the garden ready for spring. He's cool like that.

But an urban farming movement? That's impossibly cool. Sign me up. One garden is never enough!

Wonder how much help we could be to each other if everyone who could, planted?

Excuse me. Sorry. Just garden dreaming out loud... 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Quiet January Life

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, 
minding your own business and working with your hands...
-1 Thessalonians 4:11

In keeping with the whole "quiet life" thing, the plan this weekend is to make soup, knit, read, look through seed catalogs for flowers to grow this spring, and stay warm. Josh has pneumonia, and anyway- it's the best time of year to take things slow and steady, isn't it?

Have a warm and blessed weekend. -Brin