Saturday, June 30, 2007

Victoria Magazine Giveaway

Recapture the splendor of a time
when the pace of life was less hurried,
and simple touches enchanted our days,
from dawn to the cozy nest of night.
-Victoria Magazine Publications, 2007

This day is so exciting.

Today is a big day at Freeman House, you know. For those of you new to this blog, today is Queens of the Strawberries Day. It's also Victoria Magazine giveaway day. How fun! My shorts and headband and I are ready to have a blast!

Just so we're all together, I'll remind you that three weeks ago I invited everyone to enter for a free subscription to Victoria Magazine. Many entered, and many others wrote in saying they already had a subscription but wanted to reaffirm how divine this publication is. They were right. Anyway, looking over the comments this morning I wished I could pull an Oprah and give everyone who commented a subscription. Hmmm. Hang on while I call and check my bank balance....


... okay. Can't pull an Oprah. Darn. But I can give away two subscriptions! So without further ado, the winners of the Messy, Thrilling Life Victoria Magazine Giveaway are:

Betty R

Congratulations, girls! (If you wouldn't mind, please send me a comment with your full name and mailing address so I can get your subscription lined up! Of course, I won't publish them.) And gosh, many thanks to all who commented!

Also, thanks to all of you precious people for reading and commenting and supporting me. I'm such a blessed recipient of some of the most kind, thoughtful, and delightful email, comments, and phone calls in the world. You enrich my life more than I can say. And while I can't give you all magazines, I can and do pray for each of you every day. Whether we know each other or not. If you're reading this, God's hearing about you every day, and is continually being asked to save, protect, and delight you...

What a day! Strawberries are calling so I must be off. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you all again Monday... -Brin

Friday, June 29, 2007

Music and Memories

When I hear music, I fear no danger.
I am invulnerable. I see no foe.
I am related to the earliest times,
and to the latest.
-Henry David Thoreau

Music... unlike anything else in my life, I think... rushes memories in and out of my dreamy mind. For some it's smells. For some it's tastes. For me, it's music.

You know what I mean. I know you do. Happy, candy-like tunes bring back memories of the ice cream truck and summer afternoons and dripping treats and sticky arms. "Our" song, when it unexpectedly reaches our ears, brings back lost loves, romantic moments, and forgotten evenings. Certain other songs - or decades of music - bring back the recklessness and rebellion of high school or college. Others call to mind sparkly Christmas trees and long-gone relatives and shiny presents. Music is a powerful conductor of memories. At least in my life.

Perhaps you recall a few weeks ago when I mentioned that I was looking for a piano. Desperate for one is more like it. I've missed having access to one more than I can say. Growing up, I would sit and play for hours. In college, I would sneak into private practice rooms in the music building and steal precious moments playing. I never told anyone and never got caught. (I remember sneaking into a practice room two nights before graduation, pressing my fingers to the keyboard, and finally draping myself over the keys, sobbing my eyes out. I'll bet that piano's warped now.) Yep, it's a huge deal to me to be able to sit at a piano.

So, as it goes, my friend Amber was reading my piano post and emailed me almost immediately. "You can have ours," she said. I didn't believe it. Not really. But yesterday, here it came: the piano and a smiling, bouncing, cheerful-as-always Amber. After it rolled onto the ancient wooden floors of this house and the (cute) movers left, we sat down and played a duet.

It was surreal. A piano. In Freeman House. For me to play. Whenever I want.

It's beautiful. Amber, I'm still stunned, amazed, and ... thrilled ... by your gift. I did sleep last night, but before 6 a.m. I was in there playing Clementi and Beethoven and Moon River. I'm still looking for my Norah Jones sheet music, though, so I can play The Nearness Of You... one of my most favorite songs ever. But no matter. Your piano is one of the most precious things I've ever been given. It is, after all, a gift of memories... both making them and recalling them. You've given me the gift of remembrance and happiness for many, many days to come. How will I ever, ever thank you?

Wishing you all a contended, dreamy, music-and-memory-filled weekend. -Brin

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Midnight Game Night

I'm like Bush,
I see the world more like checkers than chess.
-Dennis Miller

It started as a joke, really. After I moved here I seemed to fall into a string of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dates as ladies across town tried to dump their awkward sons and loser grandsons off on me. It was terrible. Finally, I decided enough was enough: no more favor dates. It became my line, then, whenever one was presented, to sweetly smile and say, "Oh, thank you, but... you see... I can't. I'm in this late-night checker tournament."

Problem then, of course, was that I had to start a late night checker tournament. So, obviously, I did.

It started with just a few of us at first. We played checkers and cards and dominoes and Taboo until moving onto Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Candy Land. (Yes, that Candy Land.) Now it's the most highly anticipated week night of them all, with folks dropping in as late as midnight to grab a snack and a drink and pull up a chair. We eat, drink, laugh, joke, win, lose, and taunt. (Not to mention talk, vent, gossip, goof-off, scheme and plot.) I can't imagine my life now without these midnight game nights.

A few weeks ago, while on the way to Hot Springs, my friend and I veered off the road and into a roadside flea market where I immediately snatched up this old glassed-and-framed checker board for $6. It has a seal on it that's barely legible... in the shape of a circle the size of a baseball. The only letters I can make out are: "ortation". Something, something, transportation, maybe? Hmm. Anyone venture a guess?

Anyway, for tonight's midnight game night I'm making homemade pizzas. I made my 35-minute, homemade sauce this morning from the 4-bazillion tomatoes rolling around the kitchen. Omgosh, is it good. I could eat it with a spoon. The recipe's definitely going in the foodbook. But for now, it's going on the pizza so I can hold a slice in one hand and win my late-night checker league with the other.

I do have one... a late-night checker tournament, you know. I really do. :D

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Irvin Room

Home is where one starts from.
T. S. Eliot

My new friend Jae emailed me some pictures of her home yesterday. The house she and her husband have been working on for some time. It is incredible - the differentiation between before and after. Truly amazing. Great job, lady!

Anyway it got me thinking that I haven't posted any shots of Freeman House lately, have I? So... allow me to again introduce the Irvin Room, named after the family who owned this house from 1914 until 1955-ish. (Miss Freeman was their "land manager", and boarded in this house as part of her pay until she could purchase it.) The Irvins were very, very well-to-do in this town - the fourth settled town in Texas. It's called the Irvin Room because postcards hinting at the possibility of a clandestine affair involving Mr. Richard Irvin, Sr., were found in the wall. Very interesting, I say...

The room itself has a small sitting room at its entrance (which is so close to being finished!), a sleeping room, and will eventually have a private deck and restored fireplace. Eventually. For now, it's the room in which I sleep. And read. And listen to the rain fall on stormy nights.

I have a cream and gold theme going in this room. It wasn't exactly planned, it just happened somehow. I'd never been drawn to these tones before. Anyway, I usually have bouquets and herbs on the nightstand and dresser, but not today. This is it at its barest and most unadorned. But it's beautiful at Christmas! Oh, and Thanksgiving! Well... Easter, too. I adore this room, even if I'm not tall enough to finish the "salon wall" thing I have going on above the bed.

This is the painting that hangs directly above the bed. In the case of an emergency, it's one of the five things I would grab before running out the front door. I found it in a nearby antique store, and I suppose it's what I planned the room around. Somehow the solitary figure making her way down the road and up to the house draws me in. To the best of my recollection I paid $10 for the thing - frame and all. I'll never part with it...

I really do need to grow a foot or two taller so I can straighten those picture frames and hang the others. To hang those I put a ladder on the bed because there was no way the bed was moving. It was like hammering atop stilts on a sidewalk of jello. I screeched and stretched and kept crashing down all over the bed and spilling nails all over the place. During one collapse I dropped my beloved picture, which explains the cracked frame. I kept getting really mad but it was so funny that I ended up crying. Gaw. I'm such a girl.

So, there you have it. A room tour. Soon the floors and baseboards will be refinished and I'll be showing you dozens of pictures of nothing but wood. We both know I will.

Oh! Two things before I forget. One: thanks, Jolene, for the beautiful present. I intended to use it in the library, but in the meantime I'm using it as a temporary and fancy jewelry box. Hope you don't mind!

And two: this is what the Irvin Room looked like before renovation. It was one of the home's three kitchens. But not anymore. Progress, my friends. Every day a little bit of progress....

Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday Moment: The Everlasting God

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?

Or with the breadth of His hand marked off the heavens?

Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,

Or weighed the mountains on the scales
And the hills in a balance?

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
The Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom.

-Isaiah 40: 12, 21, 26, 28

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

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sneak Peek: Patriotic Pin Roses

'T is the star-spangled banner:
O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free
and the home of the brave!

-Frances Scott Key

I woke up this morning with a distinct craving to go on a picnic, eat some pie, and pop fireworks. Perhaps it was because some children down the street got ahold of some bottle rockets from the highway firecracker stand and began popping them at 11 o'clock last night. No matter. Today I have July 4th fever.

Hoping to dress up my wardrobe and picnic basket for this Fourth, I've been working on a basket full of Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, and Susan B. Anthony fabric-and-ribbon roses for Independence Day. I thought they'd be a great addition to my usual (blah) July 4th t-shirt or denim jacket. I could also use them to adorn baskets, gifts, and decor. And I think they make especially fun gifts for mothers, sisters, and friends, don't you?

Yea! So, a limited number of Patriotic Pin Roses will be available in the Freeman House Shop through Wednesday. I thought I'd give those interested some advance notice. Hurry to get yours before they're gone!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Chump Chicken

It takes a tough woman
to make a tender chicken.
- Frank Perdue

Yikes, what a week! Time for a long bath, a good movie, and comfort food. Get out the cast iron pan, my pretty ones. It's time for some Chump Chicken.

I'd love to tell you this recipe has been in my family for 40 grandmas. It hasn't. Truth is, most of the women in my family have always done one of three things with white meat chicken: fry it, stir it into dumplings, or bake it into casseroles. And it's always scrumptious. Always. It's just that by Friday, I appreciate the I've-had-a-long-week-can't-you-just-make-yourself? kind of dinner. This ridiculously easy recipe was born one Friday evening for the simple reason that I could stick it in the oven and take a long soak while it cooked itself. Lazy, easy, and utterly delicious, this recipe has become a favorite among family and friends. Everyone is blissfully clueless how little effort I expend on this popular dish. (So much so that I sometimes feel like a total chump. Therefore the name.)

Anyway, here it is. My answer to long weeks, tired feet, and a rumbling tummy. I promise you'll love it.

Chump Chicken
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 onions (white or yellow), thickly sliced
8 cloves garlic, separated, with skins on
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T. dried rosemary
2 T. dried thyme
2 T. butter, cut into 8 pieces
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F. Generously season one side of chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place, seasoned side down, in cast iron skillet*. Season remaining side with salt and pepper.

Add onions and garlic to pan, arranging on top of and beside chicken. Top with pats of butter, rosemary, and thyme. Drizzle olive oil over all.

Bake, uncovered, at 425F for 45-55 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time.

Let chicken rest 10 minutes before serving (with roasted garlic and onions, if desired). Slice, garnish with additional herbs, and serve over pasta, rice, or a bed of greens.
Or, as I did this week, plop it all over a mound of baby spinach and plop yourself on the front porch. Either way.

*I've always made this in cast iron and am convinced that's one reason it turns out so effortlessly perfect. If, however, you want to try this before you get a cast iron pan, use a heavy-bottomed baking dish. But do get the cast iron. They're worth more than gold, in my book!

Well, there you have it. Hope your weekend is full of comfort and joy! -Brin

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Soft, Pillowy Things

I got home yesterday evening and decided I was quite tired. We had a mock press conference yesterday during my WMD training and each had to answer the media's questions concerning hypothetical terrorist scenarios. One guy who - excuse me - was a blathering idiot, kept standing up and yelling: "What are you not telling us? There's something you're not telling us! What is it?!" I gripped the podium, and as people began to snicker I thought of our Monday Moment and those fruits of the Spirit. Thank God I did. I managed to walk out of that press conference with a good rating and with that man still alive and breathing. Score one for me.

Anyway, home again. I stumbled into the house, made a cup of hot tea, and sat at the sewing machine. For awhile I did nothing but sit, but after a little time ticked by I began to sew. As I listened to the thunder and lightning outside and the still, silence inside - besides the machine, of course - I remembered the days when I would come home to a tiny apartment and wish I had a house of my own. A place where I could blare music and stomp around and scream or sing at the top of my lungs. Hard to do that in a little apartment with neighbors on all sides. But now... now that I have my own place... I do very little music blaring or stomping or screaming or singing. I live a quiet life.

Amee Jane, An Herbal Wrap

So I sat, quietly, cutting and stitching and listening. When my eyes got too heavy to count the stitches, I went to bed. Of course, I took with me my lavender-filled sleep mask and my heated lavender and mint herbal wrap. I couldn't imagine a long day without them...

By the way, the things I made last night are now in the Freeman House Shop . There's something about freshly-picked lavender and soft, pillowy cotton things that make the days seem all right after all.

Enjoy! -Brin

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Take Time

I'm in training this week. Training for Weapons of Mass Destruction/Terrorism Incidents. Yeah. Nothing blows your sense of security and peace like an 89-page checklist for preparing your community in the event of an event.

Prior to Monday, I laughed at the idea of terrorists carrying out an evil little plot in a small town. We're not NYC or D.C. or LA, I reasoned. Why should we be mobilized? I now know that there has been a significant threat sniffed out and squashed here. Right here where I live. As we were briefed on the details yesterday, I was shaken for a moment. After all, here I was, happily living my life and thinking I was safely buried away in a small town off the terrorists' radar.

It makes you appreciate those simple moments, doesn't it? The reality that today a storm could blow or an attacker could strike or a disease could manifest. It makes you want to smell flowers and hug folks close and sit together and cook a big dinner and memorize smiles and eyes. It makes you cling to moments and moms and memories. And we should. For heaven's sake, we should.

Take some time. If you haven't lately, take some time to tell someone you love them. Let someone know she's appreciated. Buy an extra flashlight. An extra blanket. An extra toothbrush. Whether or not the threat to our daily lives ever becomes real, it's still nice to have all our bases - including home - covered....

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Magical Stay/Getaway

I've gone very far, far away,
but my character keeps me close to home.
-Fran Drescher

It's good to be home. But every now and then, it's good to get away. After this weekend, I've decided that some of the "away" sort of magic I enjoy most lives at the Arlington Hotel.

It started with a phone call on Friday. On a whim, a friend was headed to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to "take the waters" (as they used to say) and spend Saturday at the spa. Could I come? Omgosh, could I ever! Hours later, we were off.

I can't remember a time when I've had more fun relaxing, browsing, seeing, and shopping. I stuck my hands in hot, natural springs and breathed mountain air and got a pedicure and massage. (Although, having never had a massage before, I think I'll skip it next time. I discovered I'm not much of a massage person. But what a wonderful place to discover that, right?)

The weather was perfect. The people were friendly and interesting and entertaining. The flowers were in bloom and spilled from containers and trailed down rocks and sidewalks.

And at night, the lobby of the old hotel took your hand and escorted you back in time. As an old, smiling black man took a seat at the piano, chairs scooted back as tables cleared and people - young and old - laughed and danced. Glasses tinkled and lights winked and when the band played Moon River, I decided I was about as happy as a girl could ever be.

Yes, the Arlington Hotel may be one of my favorite stays ever. If you someday find yourself speeding toward Hot Springs, Arkansas, stay there. You'll bring home a bit of magic, too.

And to my getaway friend, thanks. As much as I love being home, I enjoyed my socks off! We'll have to do it again. Soon!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Monday Moment: The Great Fruit Pursuit

Sow for yourselves righteousness,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord...
-Hosea 10:12
I was bumping along a county road delivering a flower can last week when Mr. Fowler - a long-time community pillar and member of my church - flagged me down. "Do you like plums?" he asked, followed immediately by: "Pull on around and let me fill you up a sack."

We walked past his orderly flower and vegetable rows, past the house, and through a gate. The plum tree's loaded branches were sagging and, when the wind kicked up, seemed to shift like an overdue pregnant woman. Some plum crop. We repositioned a ladder, secured sacks, and then left him there to pluck as I went "around to the hothouse to get some onions". I left the Fowler place several kind, peaceful moments later with heavy sacks of fruit and cured onions.

I smiled as my tires hit highway pavement. God's been going out of His wonderful way lately to demonstrate to me that blessings beget blessings. That kindness sowed is kindness reaped. That generosity here perpetuates generosity there. That thoughtfulness - no matter how small, insignificant, or simple - is like God's Word: it never returns void.

This is a relatively new concept for me to put into practice. Sure, I've heard Jesus' Parable of the Sower umpteen times. But that's just it: I've heard it, then I've left it behind. I find it heartbreaking that many of us who believe in God... who have placed our hope and our hearts in the enduring promise of His Word and His sacrifice... don't follow our faith with fruit. We breeze through the list in Galatians 5 of the characteristics that should be self-evident in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, then we sniff, "Today's not a good day". Or "who can expect to have peace in a time like this?". Or, (my favorite), "I am NOT a patient/gentle/disciplined, etc. person." Well, no kidding. Few of us are. That's why these characteristics are called the Fruits of the Spirit. You ain't born with them. You develop and practice them as a result of spending time in prayer and reading your Bible. You become increasingly loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled as you seek God and His Spirit works within you. This is not an overnight, extreme makeover. This is a daily running-after the things of God. An hourly effort to be more like Him. A moment-by-moment commitment to share some fruit. Some spiritual fruit.

I wish it were easy for me. It's not. I wish I wasn't born with a wicked, sinful nature. I was. But last week as I was leaving a tiny can of flowers behind - only to be kindly showered with bags of plums - I realized: sowing righteousness does reap fruits of unfailing love. A man does sow what he reaps. What an awesome opportunity we have to bless others and stand under a shower of blessings ourselves! What a time we have now - today - to seek the Lord and reap the fruit of unfailing love.

So I'm joining the Fowlers. I'm in. I'm joining in with the Fowlers and the Thompsons and the Wilsons and the Averys and all the other Christians around the world as they, in their own ways, share God's love... His joy... His faithfulness. You could come too, you know. Together we could make it a great fruit pursuit....

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

Friday, June 15, 2007

Flower Can Friday

Flowers are happy things.
-P. G. Wodehouse

It's flower can Friday... the reason I carefully wash, dry, and save tin cans in January. I love flower can Friday.

It began ... um... last year, was it? I had dozens of broad-faced zinnias and spindly, fragrant rosemary and, living alone, I always feel guilty for keeping it to myself. Seems like flowers shouldn't be a private-viewing-only type of display, you know?

So out came a few tin cans and in went bunches of pillowy, unfurled flowers. While I adore arranging flowers and could spend an hour on one bouquet, these arrangements are colorful mismashes. Wild. They mimic a June garden-stroll caught in the hand. It's summer in a can.

On Fridays, I usually begin dropping them by a home or two just to say "I hope you're feeling better" or "Thanks for being you". There's something about leaving a small trail of flower cans behind that gives me new hope for the day. That makes me more thankful for my small world of blessings.

I wished you lived near. If you did, you'd undoubtedly have a flower can waiting for you this evening. And the tag... it would probably read: "Thanks for sharing your time with me. I hope you know how much it means."

Happy June weekend. -Brin

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Warrior's Song

The strongest of all warriors are these two:
Time and Patience.
-Leo Tolstoy

I am continually amazed by all the stories on sites like MSNBC. You know, those stories that talk about a woman who now has 150 acres of tulips because she planted just a few bulbs a year for 48 years. Or the story of the man who saved $10 a day, every day, for decades and ended up with $2 million in the bank. Or the lady who became fluent in 5 foreign languages - as an adult - because she learned a few new words every day. Wow. I am becoming an ever-dedicated believer in the concepts of time, patience, and persistence.

Passing by the organ yesterday, I stopped to rifle through some sheet music from my days as a serious piano student. I exclaimed when The Warrior's Song, composed by Stephen Heller, floated to the top. Huh. The Warrior's Song...

... I think I was 15 when it was assigned. It was to become my pièce de résistance. I still remember opening the music- having just mastered the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, I was ready for anything. Together my teacher and I painstakingly highlighted the crescendos and decrescendos and contemplated the chords. And the moment I began to play, I was spellbound. This is no ordinary music, I thought. And it's not. It is might encased in melody. It's strength put to song. It's power as told by a piano. My innermost being still reverberates when I hear those chords. This song... it resonates deeply with me.

It was a bear to learn. But with time and patience, its music slowly began to fill the house. The Warrior's Song...

My job situation changed dramatically on Monday. I saw it coming, but it still feels as though I've weathered a bit of an earthquake. After careful consideration, I've decided to take a job as the Public Information Officer with the local police department. I'll also be assuming responsibilities with the Department of Homeland Security and serving as this area's Emergency Management Operations Coordinator. In case of natural disasters or attacks, everyone's coming to Freeman House for soup and cornbread and a cot, I suppose. And it's a good thing I have all these quilts in the making. [Smile]

Anyhow, the job is cool but sadly lacking in terms of pay. I must supplement, and I must supplement fast. I went back and reread the Monday Moment from this week. Stand, look, ask, and walk. Got it. This morning I'm still at "ask". I'm getting ready to walk. Or run, rather. Knowing me it will be more of a walk-ish run.

Ah... the strongest warriors: time, patience, and ... if you ask me... persistence. Time, patience, and persistence: I am a warrior and these are my songs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sneak Peeks

It's difficult to think anything
but pleasant thoughts
while eating a homegrown tomato.
-Lewis Grizzard

I'm writing a foodbook. Did I tell you? I call it a foodbook (rather than a cookbook) because I refuse to just slap a recipe on a page and call it a day. I want you to see the food you're thinking of making. I want you to taste beautiful photography. I want you to smell the sweet tomatoes as they're snapped off the vine. I want you to feel the soft, creeping Thyme as we sprinkle it into bubbling spaghetti sauce. I want you to hear the little stories behind our recipes for Rosemary Cheddar Cornbread, Bourbon Pecan Pie, and Hot Buttered Rolls. I want to tell you why my Mom's Chocolate Cream Pie is known for miles. I'd love for you to know how to brew the kind of sweet iced tea that will make you the talk of every porch in town. I want to invite you into our herb-drying, sun-spilt kitchens and show you how my warm, Bible belt, European-descended, Texas family does food.

I've decided to present the stories and recipes by season as opposed to grouping them by "vegetables", "appetizers", etc. I love the idea of saying, okay, it's June. Let's stroll down to the garden or farmer's market and find perfect tomatoes and basil and make a Tomato Basil Pie. Or a Tomato and Mozzarella Salad. Or Tomato Basil Soup that's even better (and easier!) than La Madeline's....

Gosh, the fun we'd have, you and I, using the page to explore the spring potatoes, the summer garden, the fall pumpkin stands and the winter breads and soups. The fun! I can hardly wait.

In the meantime, I wish you were here to help me tackle all these plump, juicy tomatoes from the garden. And the basil that has to be snipped every day to keep it from going to seed. (Beautiful summer, how we love you!) So... what do you say we make some of that Tomato Basil Soup, eat all we can this weekend, and can the rest for winter? Good? Okay! We'll make it today and find some warm, crusty bread to serve alongside. So, here you have it. The first recipe I'll sneak you from my book:

Tomato Basil Soup
Serves 8

4 cups (8-10) tomatoes, cored, peeled and chopped
or canned whole tomatoes, crushed
2 cups tomato juice
2 cups chicken stock
12 fresh basil leaves, washed
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 lb. (1 stick) sweet, salted butter
1 t. salt, or more/less to taste
1/2 t. black pepper
1 1/2 T. lemon juice

1. Combine tomatoes, juice, and stock in heavy saucepan.
2. Gently simmer 25 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
3. Using a blender or food processor, puree tomato mixture and basil leaves. Or, as I do, use a stick blender and puree mixture directly in the saucepan after carefully removing from heat.
4. Return to mixture to low heat and drip in cream.
5. Stir in butter, salt and pepper, and lemon juice. Heat through.
Taste and adjust seasonings according to preference.

Garnish with basil leaves and drips of fresh cream.
Serve warm from the pan alongside slabs of crusty bread.

Ahhhh. Yum. For pretty pictures of the soup and directions on canning it for the winter (or canning it to give as gifts) you'll have to wait for the book. Details forthcoming. But in the meantime, don't you just love summer in all its brilliance and bounty?
Enjoy it all! -Brin

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Knitting Night

Knitting is very conducive to thought.
-Dorothy Day

... and laughing, and gabbing and advising and eating...

Gosh, did the summer knitting class get off to a thrilling start! Everyone bounded right in (without openly balking at the renovation-in-progress) and picked up their needles. It was a beautiful sight. I had been concerned, going into the evening, that some of the new knitters might turn and run at the sight of the house. But no one did. Maybe the buffet helped things a bit. There's something about chilled peach tea and wine and platters of brownies and cream-filled strawberries that help one overlook the terrors of renovation around her.

For all those who came, I'm deeply appreciative of you! My cheeks are still sore from all the laughing and grinning. Thanks for a spectacular evening! And for those of you whose class is yet to start, you're in for some fun!

Also, special thanks to my darling pal-since-college Lisa, who drove in to lunch with me and help with strawberry prep. You are a treasure, my friend, and the best secret agent a girl could know. Yesterday meant so much to me. God bless you over and over!

Well, let's see. #4: Knitting night? Check!

Now I just need to finish the kitchen, book a flight to London and Mary Jane's Farm, and find a piano. Anyone know where a girl might find a great piano? I promise I'll give it a happy home with a nice buffet and plenty of fantastic friends... [smile].

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monday Moment: Paths

This is what the LORD says:
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls."
-Jeremiah 6:16

Crossroads. Turning points. Forks in the road. We've all been there - one day or another. We've all stood with our backs to the past and our toes touching tomorrow... holding what, we don't know, but still... we stand. And look. And wonder. And hope.

Life is strange. The things we take for granted as constants today are sometimes violently wrested from us tomorrow. The people we depended on last week are not the people we trust this week. The classes that demanded our habitual presence last month no longer welcome us this one. The health we enjoyed last week is shattered by a diagnosis this week. The places we called home last year have different tenants and new locks this year. The jobs that paid our bills (or came close!) last pay period come up empty this one. Life is abrupt. Cruel, at times. Even its mainstays are generally fleeting.

Paths. They are tough. And while we're limited by our inability to anticipate the future, we are never limited in our ability to commune with the One who holds it. I think that's why I take such delight in my God. I think that's one reason of several that I crack open my Bible and bow my head to pray. My God is eternal. Immutable. He's not bound by time or limited by today. He's my forever One. He's the rock upon which I can freely build my foundation...

...and set my path. Strange, wild, and unpredictable as it may be.

It's easy, isn't it, for us to agonize over our place in this life? Over our path through life. We want to get it right. We want to give it our best shot in the hopes we don't waste our chance at living. I've spent countless days obsessing... needlessly worrying... about my path. This week, in fact, I wrestled with decisions and opportunities. I've prayed over chances and risks. Lord, I've said, in Proverbs You promise, 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths'. Make that true for me, Lord. Please make that true for me.

So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across the verse in Jeremiah 6 this morning. Stand... look... ask... and walk, it says, and you will find rest for your souls. Point being, when your faith is firmly anchored in the cross and sacrifice of Jesus our Lord... when your hope is firmly fastened to the grace and goodness of God... you can look at your path, however bewildering, and stand, look, ask and walk, knowing you won't have traveled in vain.

I realize this is nothing new. I understand we've heard this all before. But I wanted to remind myself today that new challenges, new hurts, new opportunities, new days... are just new ways for God to prove Himself constant and sure. All we have to do is ask, listen, and walk toward the arms of our patient Heavenly Father.

And rest -blessed rest - for our souls awaits.

Your paths... with their unexplained mystery... they are His paths,
on which He will prove Himself loving and faithful. Nothing else; nothing less.
- Amy Carmichael
Monday Moment is a little devotional to help kick-start your week. See you again next Monday!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

State of Enthusiasm

There is a real magic in enthusiasm.
It spells the difference between
mediocrity and accomplishment.
-Norman Vincent Peale

I awoke this morning with the realization that I must, as usual, spend my Saturday working on Freeman House. It's only in the past few weeks... as the weather has become increasingly oppressive and warm... that it's become a chore. My enthusiasm is quickly waning. No real magic here.

My Saturdays have fallen into a predictable routine as of late: wake early, drink coffee, do a load of laundry and carefully pin it on the clothesline, and work on the house. About 6 p.m. I'll shower and scrub and meet my friend on the porch and together we'll walk downtown to our old theatre. He always gets extra butter on the popcorn and lets me pick our seats. He pays, and I sneak in cookies or brownies. (Actually, we don't have to do much sneaking. In fact, Walter, the owner of the theatre, often asks what we've brought for the evening. Sometimes we share.) After the movie, we walk back to Freeman House under a splattering of stars and humming street lights. It's simple, but it's satisfying. I like the routine.

Still, my enthusiasm is low these days. And it can't be. I've too much to do. This morning, upon the advice of Sue, I went over to her blog and stumbled along the above picture. It's my dream view of a kitchen sink. It's from Victoria Magazine, of course. (I'd love to be scooped up and dropped in the middle of a Victoria magazine home, wouldn't you? I'd never leave. They'd have to call in the dogs to chase me out.)

Anyhow, the picture was so inspiring. Made me want to get busy again. So off I go - destined to be covered in dirt, grime, paint, and lead-based paint shavings until early evening. Thank you, Sue, for the inspiration. Today I needed it!

Come to think of it... I'll bet I'm not the only one! Leave me a comment telling me what inspires you (to decorate, work, create - whatever), and on June 30th I'll randomly draw one comment to win a FREE YEAR SUBSCRIPTION to Victoria Magazine. First issue hits newsstands in October. Happy commenting, and good luck!