Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gracie's Garden Tour

I went outside the town,
trying to hear what was in the wind...
- Henry David Thoreau, Concord, 1845

I thought a little garden tour was in order today. Join me, won't you, and let's romp through the grounds of Holly Hill...

Before we set off, we probably need a tour guide. Luckily, Gracie the cat is here to lead the way....

If I were a squirrel this would be my primary residence.

Guests could sleep here, in the guest room. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "garden bed", doesn't it?

Together we could play among these trees. Especially this one. By the way, I call it the pear-way to heaven. (Slapping my knees while you roll your eyes.)

Ooop. We're stopping. Water break, apparently.

How do you like them apples?

Ah, sunset. Good tour. Thanks for coming with. I'll see you again tomorrow... same time, same place...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What the Garden Hath Wrought

Garden as though you will live forever.
William Kent

I am loving this time of year. Every day in the garden is a new surprise. Berries I hadn't seen yesterday are bowing to the sun today. Zucchini I hadn't spotted yesterday is jutting out beneath its leaves today....

And ooh... look! The first tomatoes of the summer! They surprised me yesterday as the sun set, and I broke the peaceful, pink silence by yelling, "TOMATOES, everyone! I. have. tomatoes!" No one heard me, of course, so I'm telling you. Tomatoes will soon be tumbling out of every basket and off every counter in the house. Soon sauce and sun-drying will be in full swing. But for now, these beauties will be sliced, peppered and prominently featured on a cheese and tomato sandwich (with herb mayonnaise, of course!) for lunch. Hurry, lunch! Hurry!

What do you suppose is the best part of gardening? About planting a flower or plant of your own? Is it when you tuck those shriveled seeds in the ground, all full of hope for a harvest? Is it when you watch things sprout and grow, thrilled at their determination and your effort? Or is it when you clip and pick and bring things indoors that you fully appreciate the garden and the cycle of life? For me, it's everything. I thrill in it all....

So here's to our plants and our hard work and our summer! May there be many glossy berries and yummy sandwiches in your warm future...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

While I Was Sleeping...

The house was broken into overnight. Everything is fine, of course, but I'm off to the police station to answer questions and finalize the report.

Entrance was gained to Freeman House by way of the library, home to my many books and the dress form. Just before bed I had clothed her in my new, rough draft, experimental knitted capelet before heading to bed.

She must have seen it all.

I wonder what capelet-clad dress forms could say, if capelet-clad dress forms could talk?

(UPDATE: Weird, weird break-in, but all is well. The police poked around all morning, took a few things into evidence, and helped me screw some windows shut. It's creepy to think that someone was inside my house last night as I was asleep - walking around, pushing things around, looking things over. Reaffirmed to me that I am carefully protected and divinely watched! And now we know that happened while Brin was sleeping!)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Monday Moment: While He Was Sleeping...

Without warning,
a furious storm came up on the lake,
so that the waves swept over the boat.
But Jesus was sleeping.
-Matthew 8:24

I love this story. It's one of my very favorites. I think of this story sometimes when I'm falling asleep. I thought of this story this week when I was happily dozing off at Holly Hill....

So, to set the scene, it happened like this: It had been a busy few days. Jesus and His disciples were leaving Capernaum after going seemingly non-stop... meeting and healing people such as the centurion's servant and Peter's mother-in-law. These guys were probably a little worn out. They'd seen a lot the past 48 hours.

So there they were... in a boat... crossing the lake... heading for yet another destination. They were tired. You tired? ... Yeah, I'm beat... (Yawn.) And suddenly, in the midst of their tired lives, here came the rain. Suddenly, without anticipating it, they found themselves in the middle of an angry, raging storm. Waves lapped up to the boat. Then into the boat. Water sprayed in their eyes and the foamy roar drowned out their cries. They were in trouble... they were about to go down!... and... wait... where's Jesus? He's asleep. They're bailing water and hanging on as waves pitch the boat and Jesus... He's asleep. In the midst of the storm, He's asleep.

You're smirking, aren't you? Maybe nodding a little? Why? Because. Because it's happened to all of us - this very same thing. You know, you're living your life ... a little busy, a little tired... but you're making it. You're in the boat, moving along to your next destination. And suddenly -before you even realize it, really - you're in the middle of a storm. And as the waves get stronger and the water gets deeper, you realize: I'm about to sink. Where is Jesus? Where is God when I need Him most? I'm drowning over here and He's oblivious. Some "Savior"...

Let's go back to that boat on that stormy lake. Here's the entire story: Then he [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him! (Matthew 8:23-27, NIV)

Did you catch that? Did you? It's right there, in black and white:

#1) Jesus got into the boat first. Knowing a storm was brewing, Jesus didn't say, "You guys go on ahead and I'll catch up". Knowing what His disciples would face, Jesus didn't let them venture out first. Or alone. He was in that boat before they ever stepped in. (And by the way, these guys were fishermen by trade before Jesus called them to be "fishers of men". The fact that the men - with all their experience at sea - were scared meant that this must have been a BIG storm. Big enough to frighten them into thinking they would drown.) But it didn't matter. Jesus was already in the boat.

#2) Jesus knew the storm was coming and He still got in. Knowing they would be hit with a storm, Jesus could have delayed their trip. He could have gotten out on the water earlier... or later. So why do you suppose He led them into the boat knowing they could drown? To show them. To show them that no matter the storm... no matter the ferocity of the waves... He's there. He's in that boat before they ever were. And He's Lord of all: their fear, the waves, the storm. He was - and is - in control.

#3) Jesus let the disciples turn to Him before He acted. I find it interesting that the Bible says Jesus was asleep. (How do you suppose He slept through the storm?) Point is, Jesus was there, but He waited until the disciples came to Him to take action. He could have stayed awake and calmed the storm at the first sign of distress. He could have stepped in when the disciples got scared. But He didn't. He let Himself fall asleep. He let those big, tough fishermen get scared enough to come to Him before He stepped in.

I can't tell you why it oftentimes seems we battle things alone. I don't know why it sometimes feels that God is asleep while our storm is raging. I do know that, despite what we feel, He's there, at-the-ready to act. Sometimes we just need to call upon Him.

#4) Jesus got up. I love that... "then Jesus got up". After giving them the, "Where's your faith? Why are you scared?" line, Jesus got up. He wasn't too busy. He didn't say, "Oh, sorry, you got yourself into this storm and now you'll have to ride it out." He didn't shrug, "Awh, that's life. It'll be okay," and go back to sleep. He didn't ignore them, roll over, and start snoring. He got up. Why? Because He's a getting-up, rising-again, going-before and standing-alongside kind of God. When you call, He answers. When you're scared, He's already there. When you're drowning, He's in control. He was then, and He is still today. And that "we're going to drown!" kinda storm you're riding through is nothing to Him. He got there before you did. He speaks and all is calm. Even the winds and the waves obey.

Man, I love that story. I like to think it's the story of my life, too. Messy and thrilling. Scary to me, a shoo-away storm to Him. But other than that, I love to think about Jesus and what He did. I love to read about what happened while He was sleeping....

Monday Moment is just a little devotional read to help kick-start your week. See you next Monday!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Summer-Filled Veins

Summer has filled her veins with light
and her heart is washed with noon.
-C. Day Lewis

Click to enlarge the Southern Banana Pecan Muffins

I don't care what the little numbered squares on the calendar tell us, summer is here. It flooded the yard and seeped in underneath my door yesterday so, you see, I had no choice but to welcome it in. Besides, it brought with it hydrangeas the color of the sky. I can never say no to a guest who brings sky-blue hydrangeas as a welcome offering.

Now that it's here, everything at Freeman House tastes of it... summer, that is. I came home after a few days away to find swollen squash and plump strawberries waiting in the garden. The carrot tops are frilly and bright. The tomatoes are blushing. Grape vines are curling around fences and trees. Soon the kitchen will be full of bubbling pots of spaghetti sauce and jam and honeyed carrots. The oven will be popping out zucchini bread and cheese-covered squash and berry crisps. Oh early not-yet-summer, I love you so. I love even the thought of you.

Tomorrow marks the official opening day of many area fruit and berry farms. Isn't it wonderful? Before I am distracted by all the bright and shiny red, blue and black berries, I decided to use up bunches of 49c bananas and make my Southern Banana Pecan muffins. It's my own recipe that took ten years to perfect. Omgosh, are they wonderful. Actually, no... "wonderful" is almost an insult. They are too perfect for words. Pictures will have to do.

Okay. I'm off to enjoy my early summer. I have clothes on the line that need to come down before the mosquitoes wake...

(Update: The recipe, for Sherry....)


Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease a jumbo/six-cup muffin tin.

Using a wooden spoon, stir up:
2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
½ t. baking soda

In another bowl, cream with wooden spoon until light and fluffy:
½ c. shortening
3/4 c. sugar

To that mixture, add:
2 eggs
Beat well.

Now in separate bowl (I use a Pyrex cup), combine:
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 T. cream
1 t. vanilla

Alternately add banana mixture and bowl of dry ingredients into shortening/egg/sugar mixture, beating just until smooth after each addition. Stir in nuts. Turn into greased loaf muffin tin (or a loaf pan). Stir together ¼ c. brown sugar, 2 t. flour, and a small handful of chopped nuts. Sprinkle on top of muffin batter. Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes for muffins, or 45-50 minutes for loaf, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pans and cool. Wrap and store overnight before eating. By the way, these muffins really come into their own after a day or so. They aren’t nearly as good out of the oven as they will be tomorrow.

You should know that I usually put my very ripe bananas in the freezer for a day or two before using them in this recipe. I put them out on the counter to thaw before mashing them. It’s what my Grandmother usually did. And… don’t throw out those banana peels. Cut them into 1-2 inch pieces and bury them just under the soil around your roses. They’ll love you and you’ll be an organic, rose-growing genius who serves amazing banana nut muffins. Clever you.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Solitude on Holly Hill

Women need real moments of solitude
and self-reflection to balance out
how much of ourselves we give away.
-Barbara de Angelis

Ooooh but it was magical!

I arrived at Holly Hill Homestead that Monday morning with books, a sewing basket, and a bag full of cares. There, in the middle of the piney woods, I was to spend the next few days. Isolated. Alone. (Well, except for a menagerie of animals.) I was nervous. I was thrilled.

It was dark and oppressively damp that day. A storm was blowing in. The air was so heavy it seemed my bags and I were wandering through a sponge. To be honest, I felt a little Kiss the Girls as I weaved through the trees to the porch of the old cotton plantation house. Somewhere inside the foliage an animal cackled. Or yelled. Oh boy.

But when I climbed the porch steps and beheld this view, I was amazed. Ahh, this I could handle for the week. This is... wow! This is such a blessing!

And it was. Was it ever! I explored the house. I fixed myself tea and took it with me to roam the gardens...

Click picture to enlarge sign.

I walked and walked and prayed and prayed. Nearer to God's heart, I poured it all out - the fear, the frustrations, the hope. I passed apple trees and tangles of roses and herbs and wildflowers. And when I came upon this, I stayed.

Well, wouldn't you?

Ah, it was a week to remember. And I have so much to show you all! But for now I'm off for a bit of setting things right at Freeman House before my brother's graduation tonight.

Thanks for all your kind comments and wishes while I was away. You're so dear to me! I'm looking forward to catching up with each you... -Brin

Monday, May 21, 2007

Off On Vacation! See You Friday!

Monday Moment: God Knows

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you...
Jeremiah 1:5

I have brown hair. I have brown hair, green eyes, and fair skin. My left foot is bigger than my right foot. My right eye sees better than my left. I hate lemons. I love mint.

I like to think things through but I hate schedules. I can't do a 9 to 5 job. I like an easy hairstyle but I love a challenge. I wouldn't want to live in a new house. I am messy but I am organized. I rarely sit through an entire movie. I never take naps but love to sleep.

I am still discovering things about myself. I'm still surprised by the things I do, say, and think. But God isn't. Before He formed me, He knew it all: the feet, the mint, the challenges. Before I drew my first breath, God saw it all. And He still loves me.

I got several very personal comments/emails after last week's devotion. I'm still getting them. People are searching. People are hurting. People are looking for hope and praying for answers. People need to know, "am I alone?" People need to know "does God still love me, even though...?". We need assurance. We need perspective. We need, quite honestly, our God.

Chances are I don't know you. Chances are we've never met. But that doesn't stop me from saying this with all certainty: God knows. God knows you. Your quirks. Your secrets. Your hopes. Your sin. You may have buried them but you haven't hidden them. Not from an almighty God. And guess what? Those traits you possess... that sin you've committed... those wishes you harbour... He knew about them before you did. Before He knitted you together in your mother's womb, He knew who you would become. And He still made you. He still loves you.

I got chills (chills, I tell you!) when sitting in church not too long ago. My preacher was talking about sin and Jesus' death on the cross. Suddenly I was struck by the timeline of it. Think about it: Jesus died before we ever lived. Looking forward through time, He saw you. He saw me. He saw who we would be and what we would do. He saw our rebellion and our doubt and our sin. He saw our beauty and our potential and our hope. He saw us... in our entirety... and headed straight for that cross. What love! What knowledge! What grace!

Point is this: you can't surprise God. And you can't undo His love and His sacrifice for you. What's done is done... your sin and His saving. And wherever your find yourself - at this very moment - God is working it all together for good.

Why? Because He knows. He knows you. And He always, always has....

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

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Country Vacation, Begun

In our leisure we reveal
what kind of people we are.

I couldn't be more excited about these next few days if I tried! Vacation is underway... officially... today at noon. After a leisurely spinach and strawberry salad, I'm off to plant the zinnias and basil pulled from my mother's garden. I love zinnias. And basil....

Time off comes so infrequently, doesn't it? There's never enough. I'm the type that hates vacations with itineraries. Hate them. Freestyle leisure is the life for me. I just decided that tonight I'll likely take in an outdoor movie followed by dinner at the Honeysuckle Rose Cafe....

...Or maybe I'll invite some friends over for desserts and a showing of Marie Antoinette. But... the weather is perfect for being outdoors. Maybe we'll put on some Norah Jones and open a bottle of wine and watch the stars twinkle from the front porch...

Hmm. I do know tomorrow I'll be thrifting and blowing fivers right and left at the annual spring Treasure Trail... the county-wide flea market/yard sale extravaganza. I'd forgotten it was this weekend. Oh... the stuff to be had! Wish you were here!

So... I guess that's it. I'll check in with you darlings Monday morning for our weekly devotional and after that I'm off for the Bed and Breakfast:

Enjoy your weekend! -Brin

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Shopping Our Dreams

I adore simple pleasures.
They are the last refuge of the complex.
-Oscar Wilde

Today seems a flurry of shopping anticipation: Alicia has her bookbags, Hillary has her re-printed patterns, Heather has her fabric. You know what I adore most about this online creative community? The majority of the products and goodies you'll find hearken back to a happier time. A time when we swung a bookbag up library steps and stopped skipping once we reached the door. Don't you remember being in awe of the hushed stillness of those enormous, book-lined rooms? I do. Alicia's bookbags flood me with memories of The Velvet Room and peppermint ice cream and mosquito bites. So, so wonderful.

When I talked to my Mom about opening a little online store to help pay for the renovations at Freeman House, she looked skeptical. "We should go out and buy some magazines and see what's hot right now," she advised. I wasn't so sure. "I don't know, Mom," I said. "I think I want to make aprons and bags and updated takes on vintage pretties," I added. She wasn't sold.

But I was. Don't you remember ...? Awh, don't you remember ladies wearing flowers... on their hats, on their sweaters, in their hair? Don't we all remember a bag (with bright lipstick and change for candy) dangling from a plump forearm? And don't you remember a grandmother somewhere wiping tears and shooing flies with her apron? I do. And I wanted to give a younger generation the option of those memories, too.

Charlotte, A Sleep/Eye Mask

Of course, not everyone holds the same family memories. Some of our favorite moments come from other places... like Breakfast at Tiffany's... when we watched Audrey Hepburn prance around with fantastic hair and a sleep mask. When I was younger I always wanted a sleep mask just like Audrey Hepburn's. I tried to make one once out of a folded bandanna. Didn't have quite the same effect. But now, twenty years later, I stumble around with less than fantastic hair but a darling a sleep mask. It's even scented with my own organic lavender. I have ten more working across the hall so I can share. We can all be Audreys if we want... if only for a few hours.

Gosh. Isn't it funny the memories we hold dear? And isn't it fun to play with those dreams until we have a tangible, visual representation of them? Talking about making dreams come to life! A never-fading cotton rose and a pretty blue sleep mask do it for me....

What about you? If your dreams took shape, what would you be holding?

Happy shopping! -Brin

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Butter, the B&B and Bailey

Bread... and butter are of venerable antiquity.
They taste of the morning of the world.
-Leigh Hunt, 1784-1859

I'm making homemade honey butter this morning. In fact, it may take me all day to type this, for as I peck at the keyboard with my right hand I'm making butter with my left.

You never know what you're going to get with me, do you?

It all started last week with an email. "Hello," said the lady who owns a Bed & Breakfast some 30 minutes east of town, "would you be available to house sit while we're away?" I couldn't believe my eyes. A renowned B&B ... with its wildflowers and gardens... all to myself? For the week? For free? "Yes, yes, yes!" I practically shouted into the phone when she called. "When can I come?"

So, you see, I'm headed off Monday for a "working vacation". I'm already dreaming of hoisting Agnes Grey atop that fluffy, quilt-covered bed on their summer porch and reading for hours beneath the lazy ceiling fan. It will be marvelous. I can scarcely wait.

I'm meeting with the inn owner briefly tomorrow to go over everything. Not wanting to show up empty handed, I began looking around Freeman House for something to take. Anything from the garden was out, since Miss Garden herself probably has dozens of whatever I could offer. Baked goods were out, too, since I burned through the ancient coils in my ancient oven and am having to await parts before I can use the oven again. (Sigh) So... what to make? I leaned on the refrigerator door, thinking, when I noticed a bit of must-use-soon cream hanging out. Voila! Homemade honey butter it is.

If you've never made butter before, you don't know what you're missing. If you've never eaten butter that you just made before, you really don't know what you're missing. It's the most simple thing in the world to make and requires only these few things: a jar, a spoon, some cream, some salt, and an arm workout. The possibilities are endless, too: you can make honey butters, herb butters, steak butters... use your imagination. (There's nothing better than a hot biscuit or a hot-off-the-grill steak with this stuff. Woo-wee!) Here's how I do it:

Homemade Butter
Method adapted from MaryJane Butters

1. Fill a clean pint (or quart) jar with a tight-fitting lid approximately 2/3 full with heavy whipping cream. Leave on the counter at room temperature for 8-12 hours or overnight.
2. Shake the jar - not too quickly- at a rate of about one shake per second.
As the cream becomes butter, you'll notice it bead up on the sides of the jar.
Eventually (as MaryJane says), you'll have a clump of yellow butter and
liquid buttermilk filling your jar.
3. Drain the buttermilk and plop the butter into a bowl.
Press butter with wooden spoon to squeeze out the rest of the buttermilk.
Repeat a few times.
4. Pour the buttermilk back into your jar and store in the refrigerator.
Use it for pancakes and biscuits.
5. Season your butter. Add salt, honey, herbs, steak seasoning... whatever you like.
Store, tightly covered in the refrigerator.
(Once it's cold, feel free to transfer to your freezer for long-term storage.)
This is a great project to tackle while watching TV. It's also fun for kids. Just pay attention while you shake. Don't, for instance, put down your jar to take a drink of coffee and then forget you're holding your coffee cup and give it an enormous shake. You'll be sorry, as I just was.

Ah... okay. The butter is truly wonderful. The wave of hot coffee... not so much. Good news is the butter's about done and ready to pack in a pretty dish to take to the B&B tomorrow. Yea!

Oh... by the way... for those crafter/quilters out there, you have to check out Heather Bailey's blog. Heather is a fabric designer and has some of the most charming projects and ideas. I'm planning to start this quilt while I'm happily tucked away in the B&B next week. Isn't it beautiful?!

Click on quilt to enlarge.

Okay, so there you have it. Butter, the B&B, and Heather Bailey. Just a few of the things that occupy my attention today...

...Well, that and my new coffee-dyed sleeve.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tagged on Black Tuesday

Seriously. I'm doing everything I can over here to distract myself from the rapidly-approaching reality that Gilmore Girls ends tonight. Tonight. I'm not ready. I'm not emotionally prepared. For the past seven years, Tuesday has been my best day of the week. I'm not sure what I'll do now. (Dramatic sigh)

It started just after college, when I left my job as a reporter for a small ABC station and moved to the big city. As I vied for a job in the Dallas market, I waited tables, answered phones for VarTec Telecom and ... waited tables. But every Tuesday night, no matter what was going on, my small circle of friends and I would meet at Boston's and talk the guys out of a big-screen TV for an hour. Oh, the fun we had! We'd eat pizza and burgers and tacos and laugh and talk and watch. Later, after I got my big job and others went on to grad school and law school, we'd still talk most Tuesday nights... catching up on the show and each other. Even now... now that we're oil and gas brokers and teachers and lawyers, we still keep up - on the show and each other.

Okay. Let's change the subject before I start to cry. Hmmm. What to say? What. To. Say? Okay. It's supposed to rain today. That's something. There's a 40% chance of wet stuff. And ... um... I forgot to take the garbage out. Again. And... oh! I got tagged! Kathy's Cottage and Lana
tagged me, and while I usually don't like to play by the rules, today's the day for it. So here we go... seven weird things about myself, right?

1. Spell check always catches my name and tries to change it to "Brain". I laugh every time.

2. I like to make my own handmade... whatevers... when I can. Jam, quilts, body scrub, pin cushions... I like to make it all. My neighbor thought I was crazy last fall when I gathered pecan shells - empty, hulled out ones. "You know those aren't good, right?" she asked. "Yep. I'm grinding them in my coffee grinder and adding them to body lotion as exfoliants," I said. Duh. If Dr. Bigelow can use walnut shells, I can use pecan.... Also, my Mom and I pieced this pin cushion together from an Indygo Junction pattern using scraps from some of y'alls aprons. I love it.

3. I get poison ivy several times a year. I have it now. I think the fact that I can get poison ivy just looking at the stuff and my brother can't get it when he rolls in the stuff proves there is a God. When I get to heaven, I plan on asking God about poison ivy.

4. I love comfort food. Oatmeal, roast and potatoes, meatloaf, pot pies, Tex-Mex (down here, that's comfort food)... I love it all. My favorite way to cook is to play around with recipes that have been in my family forever. Like mashed potatoes with a tarragon cream butter. Pot roast with chipotle gravy. Chicken pot pie with cipollini onions and red carrots. When you come for a visit, expect to eat like that. (By the way, this oatmeal is really good. My recipe link is above. Spice it up by adding some cinnamon in with the oats before they cook.)

5. I read cookbooks in bed at night. I also read patterns and knitting books. I'm like a granny.

6. I'm ready for Christmas. Already. Usually by June I'm thinking of which tree to put where, and what theme I'll do for the holidays. Last year I did A Dicken's Christmas, which was incredible when we gathered around the organ near the flickering tree and sang Good King Wenceslas. Priceless. This year I'm doing Vintage Christmas. I can't wait.

7. I have all the Gilmore Girls on DVD. So while I cry about what I'll do next Tuesday evening, we all know I'll stick in a DVD and pretend like this cataclysmic end never came. I'm like the old lady who keeps ironing while a tornado takes off the top of her home. If I don't acknowledge it, it's not really happening. (Smile)

Still with me? Wow. I'm honored. Kathy and Lana, I hope that suffices. I look forward to reading how the rest of you are weird, too.

Gotta scoot. Tonight's a big night! --Brin

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday Moment: The Light

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
-Psalm 18:28

I was shocked... shocked, I tell you, when we flipped the switches at Freeman House Saturday night. Within an instant the long, shadowy hallways were flooded with light and the brightness seemed to sparkle and dance down unpainted walls onto wooden floors. I instantly began to notice things that ... for two years... have been hidden by dark corners and poorly lit halls.

It was glorious! It was also horrifying. Having lived in a renovation for this long without sufficient light, I felt as if I was walking brand new halls. I was sure I was cooking in a brand new kitchen. But as thrilled as I was with my light-in-an-instant, I walked through rooms and flipped off switches. I had light, but with it came revelations. With the pretty light came illuminations of things I'd rather have ignored or left in dark corners: cracks, dirt, mistakes. Things that will need attending to. The beauty of the light is that I can see now! The problem with the light is... oh no, I can see now.

I think many of us - whether we're new to God or have known Him awhile - I think many of us tend to treat God as I do my new lighting. First with awe, then with hesitation, then with fear. When, finally, we are exposed to God we can be mesmerized by His brilliance. His glory. We can be spellbound by the contrasts He ushers in with His presence. Old seems new. Night becomes like day. But suddenly, as our eyes adjust, we see ourselves and our lives for what they really are. We're exposed. Where we formerly thought we were good or acceptable or pleasing, we find we are really sinners. In light of God's holiness, we see our failures and mistakes and bad judgments. We might as well be standing in a 3-way mirror with florescent lighting in a too-small bathing suit. Ugh. No thanks. So rather than face our sin-riddled lives and who we really are, we turn off the light. We avoid God. We close our Bibles. We pass up church. We forget to pray. We scoot just beyond the reach (we think) of God's bare-all light and slink back into our darkness. We came, we saw, and we're not good enough.

I don't know how many people I've heard say they plan to "find God" or "come to God" when they are more mature. When they've figured things out. Standing at the edge, just out of the light, they say: "I'll read my Bible when I can devote the proper time." Or, "I'll go to church," they promise, "when I have kids. Or when I retire." I've done it, too. I've lost precious, precious days and priceless, priceless opportunities to meet up with my Creator... to talk to my God... because I simply didn't want to deal with the sin in my life ... with the things I'd need to change... if I sought God. If I stepped into the light.

Silly us. Stupid me. Why do we wait? Why do we postpone or pass up blessings? We can't fool God. We can't hide from Him, either. And one day... one day all of us - from every race and nation ... one day all of us will bow before our Creator. One day all of us will be ushered into the light, hesitant or not. But we have a chance now to let our lives grow accustomed to the brilliance that's to come. And it's not as if God expects us to change on our own. As if God requires us to be perfect. I am continually freed by the verse in 1 John 9... the "God is Light" chapter... that says: If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Love that. I can't tell you the liberty that's given me, time and time again, to boldly step into God's brilliant presence and, bought by the blood of Jesus, ask God's forgiveness. After all, I don't have to be THE light. I just have to accept it. Seek it. Reflect it.

So if you pass by Freeman House this week, don't be surprised if you see the place lit up like a football stadium. There's a lot of light going on in this place....

Praise God, there's a lot of light going on in this place! And there can be in your life, too....

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

Saturday, May 12, 2007

An Open Mother's Day Letter

I remember my mother's prayers
and they have always followed me.
They have clung to me all my life.
-Abraham Lincoln

On this Mother's Day, I want to thank you, Mom, for several things. I want you to know I appreciate your encouragement... your patience... and your love... as I've become the woman I am. Your talent, insight, and support has been my anchor. How can I ever thank you?

But most of all, Mom, I'm grateful for your prayers. I'm thankful for all hopes, dreams and worries you've laid at the feet of God on my behalf these past 28 years. We know He's heard. Surely God treasures a mother's prayers unlike any other.

I love you, Mom. I'm happy to be your daughter. There's Vanilla Cheesecake Torte and Bubble Bath Roses waiting for you here...

See you soon!
Love, Brin

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Letters

A letter is a good way to go somewhere
without moving anything but your heart.
-Phyllis Theroux

I honestly don't know where they came from. It was around Christmas 2005 - during the demolition of part of Freeman House - that they appeared. Faded, folded letters tied into a neat bundle. They were, that year, 75 years old. I found them outside on the ground where a wall used to be, waiting for me. I like to suppose they had been tucked into that wall for safe-keeping or hiding... not meant to be seen for decades... if ever. Regardless, there they were, patiently waiting to be scooped up and rescued from the elements.

They are all addressed to Miss Freeman. Between 1928 and 1930 - her early years in this house - she was apparently courted by two young men: Vannie and Ernest. It doesn't appear as though Vannie knew about Ernest, but Ernest... well, he appears to be the wise one. Both appear to be smitten.

I know little about Miss Freeman. I've never seen a picture of her, though I've been told with my dark hair and fair skin I could be her twin. I know she was industrious. Resourceful. In the very same room that Miss Freeman used to take in washing and ironing, I sit and sew for my Etsy shop. I know Marie was feisty. That she fought for what she loved, including this house. I surmised that because the grounds were peppered with roses and hydrangeas we would have shared a love of favorite flowers. But aside from the obvious... and the neighborhood hearsay... I know little about who Miss Freeman was.

I suppose that is one reason why these letters were a priceless find. "My Dearest One," begins a letter from Vannie dated May 7, 1930 - 77 years ago this week - "Will answer your letter that I received this afternoon. Began to think you had about forgot how to write.... Dear, try not to forget me Friday nite for I will be expecting you.... Be sweet until I see you."

Click letter to enlarge.

I wonder about the men who wrote these letters. I wonder what happened to them, and if they have descendants somewhere who would like to see them. I know Miss Freeman was married once, and briefly, to a man who turned out to love the bottle more than her. I've heard the story of her divorce.... how she put on her hat one morning as he stumbled in drunk, left without a word and walked 2 blocks to the courthouse and went in to see the judge. "Well, good morning, Marie," I'm told he said. "What can I do for you?"

"Judge, I want him out," she said. And I'll be dang if she didn't walk out of that courthouse with a divorce, storm back into this house and dump all his things on the lawn. She never remarried and never had children. (As I read these letters, I wonder if the Vannie in these letters is the drunk husband. He seems the type. I really need to do a marriage record search in the courthouse and see what I turn up.)

But until then I've debated on what to do with these letters. These precious, precious letters. Do I store them in a safety deposit box? Do I frame them and display them in the halls of Freeman House? Does the fact that Miss Freeman left them here... left them behind... mean that she intended them to stay here? Should I tuck them back inside the wall as she did?

These letters are amazing. But they also make me look at some of my own letters and think. I wonder if 75 years from now another dark-haired young girl will stumble across bundled letters from my one true love. And I wonder: what would she do with them?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thinking Through the Busy Money Blur...

Modern man is frantically trying to earn enough
to buy things he's too busy to enjoy.
-Frank A. Clark

Money. Sheesh. Nothing can get us as frantic as money, huh? Trying to earn enough. Save enough. Make it stretch far enough (then maybe a bit farther). Money. Sheesh.

I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Caught between a hated career that pays the bills and an impatient dream that doesn't (for a while anyway), I'm left wondering: what's really important to me? How am I really spending my days? And why... why does such a huge chunk of our lives have to be devoted to staying ahead of bills? Today I feel like a gerbil on a wheel. Sure, I'm working my heart out, but am I getting anywhere?

These past few weeks have been a blur. A pretty, busy, money blur. Money comes in and money goes out. Things are bought and things are sold. Days begin and quickly end. Outside - in my neglected garden - strawberries are ripe and arugula is going to seed and rain drops are dripping from pillowy, unfurled roses. I hardly notice. I'm too busy. I have an oil and gas business. It's all a blur.

I hate that I'm so busy. I feel guilty for all the things I should be doing but neglect for the sake of earning money. Joyce's son just got shot by a sniper in Iraq; I should be taking her flowers. My Grandfather has Parkinson's and isn't doing so well; I should be watching the Rangers with him. Sue, Jen, and Dawn have all been promised packages. The library needs more volunteers; I should be helping out down the street....

Sorry to pile my mountains on you. Maybe I just need more (or less) caffeine. It's just lately I'm thinking: if it all were to suddenly stop... if it all were to suddenly end... what would I regret the most: not earning more money, or not taking garden roses to Joyce?

I feel a change coming very soon....

I don't want to make money, I just want to be wonderful. Marilyn Monroe

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ends and Rebirths

Victoria magazine will once again take its place
as the official guide to gracious living.
-Hearst Publications, April 30, 2007

I realize this is old news to most of you by now, but it's still sinking in over here: Victoria Magazine is coming back! It's the most thrilling thing I've heard all spring. I danced and twirled and laughed when I got the happy news from Miriam. Isn't it just wonderful? You can read the official release here.

The April 1991 issue - which came out the very day I turned 12 - was entitled Return to Loveliness. I just love that... a return to loveliness. Doesn't it just sound as if we've been given a second chance at beauty? I can hardly wait until October. In fact, I've already decided to give away a gift subscription to the magazine this fall in honor of the occasion. Don't worry... I'll remind you all as time draws near!

But for now, in honor of this happy news, I give you Linda Beth, A Handmade Rose. She and two others like her are sitting pretty in the Freeman House Shop just waiting to go home with someone special. You know, in honor of our collective return to loveliness.

Ah yes, it's wonderful. But equally dramatic as the Victoria news has been around Freeman House this week, the end of Gilmore Girls has overshadowed it. All this loveliness is diminished by the knowledge that this coming Tuesday night will be the last Gilmore Girls night ever. I was incredulous... then shocked... then devastated when I saw the tease for next week's series finale. I'm not a huge television viewer, but I have faithfully plopped down in front of the TV almost every Tuesday night for SEVEN YEARS to watch Lorelei and Rory brave their battles together. I am truly, truly saddened by the end of this much beloved show. Whatever will I do now? [Sad smile]

So as one (big/huge/major) door closes, another opens. So long Gilmore Girls. Hello again, Victoria. I'm grateful for the time I have - and will - share with both of you!


UPDATE: As of Friday, the Linda Beth Handmade Roses are sold out. Thanks for looking! Once I get the library ceiling and trim painted, I'll probably make a variety of other roses for the shop. Stay tuned!

Freeman House Entry B&AA

Life is full and overflowing with the new.
But it is necessary to empty out the old
to make room for the new to enter.
-Eileen Caddy

Wow, did Freeman House prove that quote to be true. And then some.

I was reflecting sometime during the chaotic weekend that I didn't even know the house had her original front door and transom windows until after closing. There was so much stuff piled in front of the door... on the inside of the door... that the door wasn't even visible until the piles were hauled away. It was sort of like an excavation, cleaning out this house. Oh, the stuff we found! And oh... the stuff we found. (Shudder)

I've had a lot of people in and out of the house over the past several days, and two of them casually remarked, "I can't believe you live here." Only they said it kinda like one would say, "I can't believe you kill frolicking puppies for fun." I wanted to roll them in bales of itchy insulation and force some of my before pictures on them.

But I didn't. I will, however, show you. Because I think you get it, don't you? The allure of a diamond in the rough? Regardless, as the picture above was the Freeman House Entry before, here it is almost after:

The wood floors need to be refinished, and the crown moulding has to be removed and hung again. But otherwise, besides decorating, it's done. We got a lot accomplished Saturday, but an unforeseen electrical issue has me this far (pinch thumb and index finger together) from having the house brightly lit. But boy, has it come so far!

Gosh. I have the most hectic week ever. Do you? Business calls me out of town tomorrow and Friday, and though I have a lot I want to show and share (homemade Strawberry Vanilla Jam... Rooting your own rosemary cuttings... A new quilt pattern...). In due course, I suppose.

In the meantime, it's Tuesday... my best day of the week. Hope you all enjoy yours, too! -Brin

Monday, May 7, 2007

Monday Moment: The Middle of the Movie

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 sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad
the city of God... God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
-Psalm 46:1-5

Not even a year ago, I lived and worked one county over from Greensburg, Kansas. I was there on business - for nine months - and loved it. The whole area reminded me of Mayberry - so quiet, clean, and mannerly. The people didn't have much, but they were industrious, hard-working, friendly people who kept their neighbors close and their families closer.

I was shocked yesterday to see more aerial news coverage of the devastation of Friday's tornado. The town looks like a city dump. Nine people are dead. Hundreds are huddled in Red Cross shelters. Everyone is shocked. Stunned. Bewildered. A few hours ago, police arrested soldiers... four Fort Riley soldiers... for looting. The town is leveled and the very ones there to protect it are looting it for cigarettes and beer.

Ten years ago, I went to college with a guy named Eric. He was a troublemaker at our Baptist college - showing up for chapel services drunk and taunting guest lecturers and Bible professors. He had nothing in common with me or my roommate, but came over often for dinner. My old roommate and I are both Christians. "Why? Why do you believe that crap?" Eric would ask. And we'd tell him. And he'd scoff. Stupid, naive girls, his glances would say, what a waste.

When he would leave, we would pray for Eric. We'd ask God to become real in Eric's life... to show him that there is a God and He wanted to be Eric's God, too.

Late one night, Eric pounded on our door. "Just tell me this," he slurred. "If God's so great and so good, why doesn't He do something about all the hurting in the world? Why did he let my family fall apart?" I could hear anger... and hurt... in his voice. "Figure that one out, and maybe you'll have something."

I've been emailing one of you amazingly talented fellow bloggers this week. We've talked about God... about who He is... about faith and what we believe. And as I sat down to type, I made her this disclaimer: I have no theology degrees. I never went to seminary. In fact, I have a law degree. I like questions. I like answers. I like debate. I like facts and evidence. In reality, I'm just a girl ... a girl with a Bible and a little faith who's pushed God and questioned God and doubted God but ultimately taken God at His word.

And speaking of His Word, I love that passage in Psalm 46. God is our refuge and strength, it says, before going on to describe landslides and earthquakes and floods. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God... okay, that's nice, too. Except Jerusalem is the "city of God", and last time we all checked, there's no river there. The first time I read that, I got confused. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God... yep, that's what it says. And Jerusalem has no river. Suddenly I was back in college, with Eric reading over my shoulder. "And this is the Bible you take so literally," he'd say. "It's so off. It can't even keep its rivers straight."

And just like in college, I was on the case. I researched. I hunted for evidence. Why does this lovely passage put a river where there isn't one? Then I found it. The explanation. "Jerusalem has no river, unlike Thebes," says an NIV concordance. "Yet she had a 'river'. Here the 'river' serves as a metaphor for the continual outpouring of the sustaining and refreshing blessings of God."

Suddenly it all lined up. Here's the Bible... talking about devastation. Desperation. Terrible times. A time like we live in. And here's a place with no river. The city of God. Why did God put His city in a wasteland? Why didn't He establish it near water? Surely a sparkling river would have benefited His people just as answers - hard and fast answers - would benefit us. Gosh, a city with no river. A time with few answers....

...Or, is it?

Jerusalem has no literal river. Yet, she has a God who's willing and able to be her river... her life-sustaining, blessing-bringing channel. And we... we have disasters. Man made ones. Natural ones. We have no control over them and we have no answers to justify them. Yet we have an ever-present help, a God who is "within" and among us, who will help at break of day.

I'll put it this way: God's ways... they're so much higher than ours. And His plans... they've been established since before time. For us to question God's plans or timing or reasoning is an exercise in futility. We - you and I - are witnessing such a brief snapshot of God's overall plan. We're walking into the movie halfway through, then leaving after a few seconds. Of course it doesn't make sense. Of course everything in front of us - the disasters, the chaos, the trouble - looks as if it will end badly. The middle of movies often do, and we've been born into a show that's been playing out for some time.

Those verses in Psalms... it starts by saying God is here. Ever-present. Then it describes the trouble we'll see... the lack of a physical river we'll have. Then it reminds us that God is "within us" and "will help at break of day". God's there, there will be trouble, and God will step in. After the night... after a time of darkness... He will help. If that isn't an elementary outline of God's great plan, I don't know what is.

So no matter what we see on TV this week, remember: God's a refuge and strength. No matter what's happening in your life, remember: there is a river... even when you don't see one. There is a blessing-bringing, life sustaining source that's yours for the taking - even in the barren wasteland of a current situation. And no matter what the rest of this movie holds - no matter who attacks or what falls from the sky or who shoots whom, hang on and don't forget. Don't forget: God will help at break of day.

Gosh, that was a difficult devotion to write. But I like the hard ones. I like talking about what we see, and where God is when it's all going down. But really, maybe I should have asked for help explaining all this. Maybe I should have called Eric...

... after all, that drunk, angry, sneering college kid... well, he ended up believing in God. He realized that despite the trouble in his life, God was there, ready to be his help, and had a plan for him. In fact, someone told me Eric's thinking about taking a group up to Kansas this week to help out.

Eric's a preacher now. And boy, ten years ago - in the middle of that movie - I never would have guessed it would end like this.

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