Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Blueberry Breakfast Bar

My first job was picking blueberries. Really. At that time, Harper's Blueberry Farm paid 50 cents for every picked and sorted pound of blueberries one could manage. I remember going home with more money than any of my friends, but only because they ate half their berries whereas I had to make myself eat mine. I prefer my blueberries warm and oozing and surrounded by sugar, thank you very much. Sad, but true.

That's probably why, after my recent berry picking adventure, I immediately began searching for a few different ways to bake these bright blue jewels. And by different I mean not cobbler, pie, or muffin. After perfecting a heavenly Pecan Blueberry Pancake (to be featured in my aforementioned foodbook), I was still hoping for something... something... well, something that would be equally welcome as a leisurely dessert, a mid-day nibble, or a quick breakfast. I found it, courtesy of Susan, a fellow farmgirl and foodie. This, then, is my adaptation of her delicious recipe, and what I'll continue to do with the blueberries, nutmeg, and vanilla beans hanging around the Freeman House kitchen...

Blueberry Breakfast Bars
Adapted from Farmgirl Fare

2 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup flour (all-purpose)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
10 T. (1 stick plus 2 T.) butter, melted
1 t. vanilla (or ½ vanilla bean, split and seeded)

Berries (Middle Layer)
3 ½ cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 t. almond extract (I use vanilla sometimes instead)
1 cup sugar
3 T. flour
½ t. nutmeg
1 t. cinnamon

1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
5 T. butter, cold

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Generously grease a 9" x 13" baking dish. For the crust, in a large bowl, stir together oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix in melted butter and vanilla until combined. Press evenly into the bottom of your greased baking dish.

Next, tumble blueberries into the bowl you just emptied. Add almond extract and stir lightly until coated. Pour berries evenly over pan’s bottom layer. Combine sugar, flour, nutmeg and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over blueberries.

For the topping, use a fork or pastry blender to combine flour, brown sugar, and butter until it resembles large crumbs and clumps. Sprinkle over berries.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake another 20-25 minutes or until top is golden and edges begin to turn brown. Don’t over bake.

Let bars cool before cutting and storing in airtight container or refrigerator. Bars may be individually wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months.

Yum. If you have any berries lying around the kitchen, I urge you: try these. If you don't, keep an eye out for the frozen ones to go on sale. It's worth it. These bars are delicious warm, cold, and everywhere in between. (And of course, ice cream, whipped cream, and extra cinnamon don't hurt either.)
Hope you enjoy! -Brin

Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday Moment: God Doesn't Change

I the Lord do not change.
-Malachi 3:6

I love the very idea of a God who doesn't change. He doesn't change. Never. Not ever. Our God is the forever One. He doesn't change.

Life is constantly changing. I was baffled this past weekend when suddenly confronted by all the things in my life that have shifted over the last few years. Change is an intrusive sort of thing, isn't it? Sometimes we welcome it, other times we simply weather it. Change can be tragic or change can be magic. Either way, life is a series of adjustments that require our attention, our patience, and sometimes our dreams....

Lives change. People change. Feelings change. Skies change. God? He doesn't. Not ever. God never changes.

I'm watching the sky outside my window darken. The weather has been so unpredictable this summer. It reminds me that, undoubtedly, some of us are going through change, too - even at this very moment. We're watching our worlds break. Our hearts sink. Our families adjust. Our jobs transition. We're hanging off to the side, bewildered, as our homes empty. Our faith limps. Our scenery rearranges. Our health slips.

Maybe you're not there today... in the midst of a life change. Then again, maybe you are. Maybe, just like I was, you're trying to hang on in the midst of some very tough circumstances or very sharp curves. If you are, know this: your life might change, but God doesn't. You may change, but God won't. Not now. Not ever. Our God doesn't change.

So hold on, friend. Hang on. Take shelter in the One who has always been there and always will. Find your rest and seek your comfort in the Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end. And know, as my Mom always said, that this too shall pass....

Know that, and this: that He, the Lord, does not change. His love is secure and His help unwavering. Our God doesn't change. Not ever.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Coming Up Next Week...

Some of What's Coming Up Next Week:

A New Monday Moment

In the Freeman House Kitchen:
Blueberries, Nutmeg, and Vanilla Beans

Girl's Guide To Bathroom Renovation

See you Monday!

Glamour, A Feature, and A Weekend Away

I'm just not very good at glamour...
It doesn't come easily to me.
-Elize Du Toit

It doesn't come so easily to me, either - glamour. Sometimes I think that perhaps I should work on my glamour factor... you know, try being high maintenance and spend an inordinate amount of cash at a MAC counter or on a haircut. Whatever. Every time I hand over a dollar - even for the Visine Redness Relief eye drops I bought yesterday - I think, this would buy a box of screws for Freeman House. I'm hopeless. About as glamorous as I get is painting my toenails Ballet Slipper Pink and serving home-brewed espresso with my handmade cloth napkins. If you're looking for glamour, people, don't come to Freeman House.

That's one reason, I suppose, that I was surprised to read that my little blog here had been selected to be featured as one of DelightfulBlogs' Stylish Living blogs. What?! Me? STYLISH Living? The girl who can't mow in a straight line? The girl who hangs pictures (crookedly, I might add) by standing a ladder on the bed? The girl who, when her clawfoot tub curtain surround comes crashing down because she didn't install it properly, sinks to the floor and cries, "Help me, Oprah! Help me, Tom Cruise!!!" before dissolving into a fit of tears? Wow. They must be looking to scale down their stylish/glamour factor, huh?

I popped over to their website late last night - DelightfulBlogs, that is - and immediately noticed Cote De Texas. One look at her current post had me drooling. I may not be much of a glamour girl, but the pictures she found in Traditional Homes had me written all over them. The first picture, with a few modifications, of course, is my dream sitting room. And the room above is the exact look I'm going for in a girl's guest room. (Although my version will likely feature crooked pictures and different-colored homemade curtains. But you get the idea.)

Yep, it all got me thinking about glamour and my sad glamour factor since becoming a country girl. It's a good thing I'm headed off to the city this weekend. It's always good to see the bright lights and bustling freeways and pretty, pretty furniture, dishes and clothes.

Maybe I'll even go to Anthropologie and buy a new dress while I'm in the city. Of course, I don't think you can line-dry these. So we all know I'll just drool over these dresses and be on my way....

Fun times, I'm sure!

Ah, another weekend. Came quickly, didn't it? Thanks for hanging in here with me this week. From the depths of my unglamorous Freeman House, I wish you a lovely weekend. A lovely, restful, and glamorous weekend. -Brin

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Country Peach Orchard Day

One does a whole painting for one peach
and people think just the opposite -
that particular peach is but a detail.
-Pablo Picasso

Ever since Saturday's cobbler, the only thing I've wanted is peaches. (Sure, my dinner companion and I pretended to eat Mexican food last night, but really, secretly, we were dreaming those fajitas were peaches.) Fresh, grilled, baked, roasted - I don't care. Give this girl a peach.

So all-consuming was my craving for juicy peaches that I left work a tad early yesterday (I started a new oil and gas client on Monday. Did I tell you?) and ran by the local peach orchard. My timing was a little off, but the kind peach folks didn't care.

There were baskets and bags and boxes of the beautiful, fuzzy fruits on top of and beneath every table and surface imaginable. I kept turning in a circle, squinting, thinking, this can't be real... this can't be real. It was. My blue dress and I were in heaven - gastronomic and sensory heaven.

I'm such a simple-minded simpleton. Drop me by a country peach orchard on a sunny, breezy summer day and I'm about as happy as a girl could ever be. Throw in some sweet tea, roll down the car windows and crank up Patty Griffin on the radio, and it's a downright splendid day. Yeah. Huh, it was the perfect summer weekday: coffee, dress, work, orchard, dinner date, sweet iced tea, ceiling fan, bed. They don't come any better than that.

Okay, so maybe I question Picasso and say the peaches were just a detail. But a happy one nonetheless. Now I just need to decide what to do with all this... the happiness and the peaches.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Beautiful Ache, Explained

What do you long for? Pray for? Save all your hopes for? Does it have a name? A title? A feeling?

Gosh, I wish you could come over. I wish we could sit down in the library and talk about this together. I really do. But since we can't - not today, anyway - let's do this: let's have a book talk. Not a book review. (There are plenty of those out there already.) Oh no, I want to introduce you to a book that has quietly changed my life... has subtly changed the way I look at myself and my oldest wishes and rawest hurts. The book is called The Beautiful Ache: Finding the God Who Satisfies When Life Does Not, and it, my friends, speaks to the most deeply-buried longings in your heart.

I've never met Leigh McLeroy, the author of this book. We've never met but we do have a mutual friend. When I begged our friend for Leigh's information, she did me one better: she put me in direct contact with Leigh. I was ecstatic. Direct communication with one of my favorite authors? Wow!

This is what came of it. This is what came of my chance to ask a favorite writer about a formidable subject: how do I deal with the aches in my life? How do I invite an almighty and all-knowing God into my hurt? This is our conversation, unedited:


Brin: This book is emotive. Personal. What, exactly, drove you to write it?

Leigh: This book has been slow-brewing. I wrote parts of it more than five years ago, unsure of what (if anything) they might become. The thread that ties them together was revealed to me gradually – but I’m so gratified that it has finally become something whole and true. As to what drove me – maybe it was simply the realization that no one that I know is completely and utterly satisfied with their life. No matter their state or status, they have longings – desires – that seem out of reach. C.S. Lewis said that If we experience desires that no earthly thing can satisfy, the most logical explanation is that we were made for another world. We are! But we live in this one…and this world has aches that can’t be avoided, and shouldn’t be. I’ve come to believe that it is important to embrace these longings and let them teach us…not push them away or try to stuff or stifle them. That’s the message I wanted to share.

Brin: Tell me about having a "beautiful ache". What is it? What's yours?

Leigh: The “beautiful ache” is that nagging “heart hurt” that leaves you wanting more, hoping for more, than what you have felt or known. When I explained it to someone recently, she said “Oh that! I call that my ‘homesick feeling’”. Something inside every one of us just knows there’s more. And we ache for it.

I have many “beautiful aches.” In fact, I describe 17 of them in the book, from the ache to belong, to the ache for beauty, to the ache to celebrate. One ache of mine centers on hope – in particular the hope or ache for a family, for a husband and children. Up to now, that is not the way God has led me. I’m not sure if this ache will ever be satisfied in the way I desire…and it certainly has not been in the timing I desire. But I invite God into that ache by refusing to deny it, or to stop asking him to satisfy it. (Which, by the way, is a lot different than frantically trying to figure out how I can do so myself!) I pray a very specific prayer in this regard, and I believe I will know with certainty if, and when, God chooses to answer affirmatively. But even now, the ache compels me to cultivate other relationships that call out my loving and nurturing side, and that keep me emotionally engaged and honest. And I remind myself in the midst of the ache that there is not a single day of my life I would have traded for marriage and motherhood before now, because God has blessed me with some wonderful relationships and experiences I might not have enjoyed had my life taken a different turn.

Brin: Do our aches have a purpose?

Leigh: My belief is that their purpose is to turn our hearts God-ward, so that we can come to know the one who truly satisfies, even when (or maybe especially when) life does not.

Brin: In the book, you address how to "embrace the gap between the life you know...and the life you can't help longing for". Do you believe this is truly possible?

Leigh: I do. It’s not our natural response to embrace an ache…but experience has taught me that it’s a possible response – and even a desirable one. Because I believe in a God whose kingdom has come, is coming, and will come – I am more able to live in the tension of a world where all is not as it should be, or will be. I am less prone to try to “resolve” everything here, trusting instead that one day, my King will return, will right all wrongs, defeat all foes, judge in righteousness, and rule a new heaven and a new earth forever. When I see my aches in light of eternity, they take on a whole new meaning. They no longer taunt me, they teach me. Mother Theresa once said that, from the perspective of eternity, the very worst experiences of this world will seem like one night in a bad hotel. I like that.

Brin: Wow. Can - or how do we go about - letting God into the midst of our aches?

Leigh: That’s a great question – and a fair one. I try to live “wide awake” – with my heart and spirit and senses engaged. And from reading your blog, I suspect that you do, too. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God – but only he who sees takes off his shoes… It hurts sometimes to get glimpses of that beautiful “other” and not have more of it – but the glimpses are worth lingering over, and even the emptiness they leave in their wake is a good, true thing. I try not to rush by those things that elicit the ache, or to medicate the longing they evoke with business or activity or food or drink or any lesser pleasure. I try to let the longing teach me, and take me where it wants to go.

Seriously. I can't tell you all how deeply this book has impacted me. And I can't encourage you enough to find a quiet corner and a soft hankie and read this book. Ask for it at church or order Leigh's book by clicking here.

And Leigh, thanks. Thank you for sharing your ache with us and, as a result, helping me identify and take hold of mine. You're such a blessing. I can't wait for the next book! -Brin

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Betty, Buckle, Cobbler, Crumble, Crisp, Grunt, Or Slump

Call it what you wish: a betty, buckle, cobbler, crumble, crisp, grunt, or slump. Whatever. No matter what you call it or how you make it, these sugary/fruity bakes are the purest embodiment of summer. Yum. July... and all your berries and fruits... we love you so.

The weekend was a blur. A happy, busy, buckle-cutting blur. Part of my early Saturday was spent in the kitchen with my incredible friend Jolene, owner and proprietress of Holly Hill - my most favorite corner of the earth. She made the divine dessert you see here. The pictures hardly do it justice. It was divine. When I gasped and raved about this beautiful thing's taste and texture, she simply shrugged. She shrugged. Whereas I'd be standing atop a table, wildly pointing and jumping up and down and shouting, "People. I. MADE. This. Beautiful. Thing. FROM. SCRATCH," she simply shrugs it off. She cooks likes this all the time, you see. She even handpicked the blueberries that topped the fresh peaches that went into this homemade cobbler. Or crisp. Betty. Whatever. Jolene's amazing. If you ever want to get away, come here and sit on her porch and order a plate of this. You won't want to go home. Not ever.

She has a blog, you know: the cobbler queen. (That's your new nickname, Jolene.) You should stop by and see her as you have the time. She has great plans for her blog, and I'm sure if they're anything like her home, her food, and her garden, we'll all be enthralled. The sit-at-her-feet-and-scribble-down-everything-she-utters type of enthralled.

Hmm. Okay. I'm starting to feel guilty about bombarding you with all these pictures and carrying-ons when you can't even taste a forkful of this sweet, fruity heaven on a plate. I feel badly. It's a shame - a real crying shame.

But more for me. Jolene, thanks. Maybe one day we can all gang up on you and get the recipe for your cobbler. Or Betty. Or buckle, crumble, crisp, grunt, or slump... whatever....

(UPDATE: The recipe is in! Try this beauty for yourself by visiting Jolene's recipe - and her great blog - here.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday Moment: Identity Story #2

I can't remember her laugh. Or the color of her eyes. But sometimes, as I'm falling asleep, I can see her face.

I see her as if in a dream. She walks and sings and stretches out her hand to grab hold of mine... only I can't touch or hear her. It's as if she's on one side of a hazy, rose-tinted window and I'm on the other. As her face materializes from the depths of my shadowy dreams, I realize: I miss her. The longing is like a dull ache you wake with - you're not sure where it came from or when, exactly, it appeared.

My cousin says I'm like her. Like my mother. He says I'm fearless and unflappable just like she was. I couldn't say. My time with her and my father was brief. After they died, when I was still a child, I came to live here with Cousin. He doesn't talk much about my mother and father... about their deaths. Instead he tells me stories of our people; stories of how our forefathers braved war and famine and despots in the name of becoming a great people who serve the one true God. I love these recounts of faith and bravery. It's because of these stories that I forgive him for not telling me more of my parents.

Well, that and the fact that Cousin understands living a life that hasn't gone as planned. Whereas life watched me grow up without parents, life watched Cousin climb the political ladder here. He's not from this place, you know. He was exiled from Jerusalem. He doesn't speak of it much. In fact, he told me never to talk about our roots... about where we come from. It's probably just as well.


Our lives here are complex. Privileged compared to most, but complex. After leaving my cousin's house I married well, partly due to Cousin's influence and partly due to the ex-wife's vanity. My husband is a powerful man and Cousin works for him within the same walls where I make my home. Despite our proximity, we rarely talk. It wouldn't do, Cousin says, for people - including my husband - to know we're related. We live, therefore, separated by expectations and fears. (Cousin doesn't know, but I see him from time to time, pacing the courtyard outside my building and asking about me. When I know he's there I try to send word: I'm fine. All is fine.)


And it has been. It was. Only the same fearlessness that characterized my mother has taken hold of Cousin. For the second time this week I've heard that he's angered prominent people for refusing to bow and scrape to his superior. It's the latest gossip. What will become of that man? people ask in hushed, incredulous tones. I wonder too. And worry. This situation doesn't bode well for him. For him, for me, and for many, many others like us.

I'll spare you the details. Suffice to say Cousin sparked a wicked fury in a formidable foe. Our adversary is close to my husband and therefore I know this man is cunning. Cruel. And based on Cousin's rebellion, this man's devised a plot to bring devastation on Cousin. He's on his way here... to my house... to lobby my husband's support for his diabolical plan. I would intervene, only my past has been carefully hidden all these years. My roots are buried as deeply as my dear parents. To reveal my past - to disclose my relation to Cousin now - would be too risky.

I wonder what my mother would advise if she were here. I close my eyes and try to see her face... remember her voice. What I wouldn't give to have her with me now.

The situation has worsened. The imbecile has brought others into his revenge. The date has been set, at which time Cousin and all his people will be ruined. Killed, even. The sentence would include me, too, if anyone knew of my background. Knew who my parents were. My cousin has sent word. Do something, he said. I responded immediately: you know the risk. The time isn't favorable.

I don't know what to do. I can't sleep.

I received this message from cousin just now: Do not think you alone will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place, but all of us will perish. And who knows that you have come into your position for such a time as this?

Every life has a purpose. Of this I'm sure. Although mine's seemed to be the result of accidents and tragedy and happenstance, perhaps it's not. Perhaps life has lead me here - to this exact place - for this exact moment. I think of my mother and her early death. I try to imagine what she would have done, given this opportunity to come to the aid of her people. I think and then send Cousin word: gather together and fast for me. I will do what needs to be done. If I perish, I perish.

It's been three days. I slept once and when I did, I saw her face again. She looked at me through the haze with those eyes... her brown eyes. I held my breath. Moments fell between us as we held the other's gaze. Slowly, she nodded.

A breath, and I awoke. I have a plan. It's time.

Who am I? Have you guessed? My mother... my fearless, unflappable mother, named me Hadassah, Persian for "star". But you can call me Esther. Queen Esther. Read about my plan... and the rest of my story... in Esther 5.

(Did you know that Esther is one of two books in the Bible that never refers to God? I'm fascinated by orphan Esther's story, and by the fact that although God is never mentioned, His hand is evident throughout her incredible life. This summer, I challenge you: dive into the Scriptures. Live the lives of these heroes of our Christian faith. And catch the first Identity Story here. -Brin)

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

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rain's a-Comin'

More rain's a-comin', which means:

clean sheets that smell of rain,
a pan of hot cornbread,
a long novel on the library couch,
nature's thundering soundtrack, on repeat -
and a parade of umbrellas up and down the street.

Hope you enjoy your weekend, wherever it finds you. -Brin

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Girl's Guide To Mowing

As a new homeowner, I'm learning lots about handling a household on my own. Allow me, then, to share with you my Girl's Guide To Mowing. It just may save your life...

Mowing Preparation

Go out and get yourself a brand new, electric start, self-propelled lawnmower. Do not borrow your neighbor's. (We are girls, after all. We take help where we can get it but do things right the first time.) When they deliver the mower in a box, call Jo to help you get it out and Sam to oil it up and pour in the gas. There. Now you are ready.

Rethink The (Lawnmower) Wheel

We do not mow as guys mow. Oh no. We are multi-taskers. Queens of doing five things at once. Therefore, make your mowing time matter. Think of it as an opportunity to fit in a little spa time. Assemble the following products: teeth whitening strips, sunscreen, foot lotion, anti-cellulite cream, heat-activated hair conditioner, and hand moisturizer. Before heading out, apply teeth whitening strips. Apply moisturizer to hair, comb, and tuck under baseball cap. Rub in anti-cellulite cream before sliding into jeans. Apply foot lotion and cover with heavy cotton socks and rubber boots. Apply cuticle cream and hand moisturizer and put on gloves. Stand back. Gloat that by the time the yard is neatly mowed, your teeth will be whiter, your body and hair softer and your thighs less cellulite-y. Ha. Let's see a guy think of this.

Start Your Engine

Approach lawnmower. Engage your abdominals (like that brunette on your pilates video). Remember you forgot the lawnmower key. Disengage, run inside, return with key. Start lawnmower. Activate self-propelled feature and wince as it nearly jerks both shoulders from their sockets. Hang on, girl. (And engage those abdominals.)

The Art of Mowing

Lawnmowers are violent, ruthless machines by nature, therefore don't think about it when you run over crickets. Also, try to avoid sticks and bricks. And rocks. Decide that, once upon a time, your yard must have been a stone quarry. Or a Civil War era rock garden. As such, it's okay to yelp and scream when the mower hits and flings rocks, just make sure no one's watching and remember to ease off the self-propelled feature. And... oh... that. That was just the grass cover-thingy. It's okay. It falls off all the time, I think.


Or maybe it was important. When the lawnmower dies, don't freak out. It's okay. Reattach grass guard thing and try to start mower. Hmmm. Realize mower's probably out of gas and run to get your cute gas jug. Carefully unscrew gas can and stare with disbelief when you realize it still has gas. Try to start mower again. When it makes that little PUFF sound as you turn the key, begin to mutter under your breath. Rock mower back and forth to dislodge whatever's under there. When that doesn't work, pull it around awhile and try to start it again. Speak clearly and sternly to it. (You won't put up with this, after all. It's a new mower.) When that doesn't work, take off your sweaty/lotion-y gloves and ... go inside.

Phone a friend.

Repair and Maintenance

When friend asks if something's caught in the blade, act as though you'd thought of that already. Turn mower over. Don't sound surprised when something is, in fact, caught in the blade. Politely hang up and find a stick. Poke at the clumped-up mass. When it doesn't budge, poke harder. DO NOT dwell on the fact that one false poke could leave you without your right hand for life. Take off glove, wipe stupid lotioned-and-creamed-hand onto your dirty jeans, and poke harder. When it doesn't move, cry out in frustration.

Being a Team Player

When the guy working on the home next door hears you scream, don't be surprised when he runs over. Smile and politely explain your dilemma. When he stares at you, keep smiling. When he says, "What in the world kind of get-up is that?", and gestures to your "get-up", continue to smile as you explain that it's a little something called spa mowing. Don't expect him to understand.

When he tips the lawnmower over, don't panic. When he frees the blade, thank him profusely. Remind him that you are new to mowing and will soon have all this down. Be extra nice to him when he restarts the lawnmower and stares at you again. (And don't tell him, when he asks, that the strong peppermint/caffeine smell is anti-cellulite cream.)

Resume mowing.

Completing Your Yard

Finish mowing, stopping only to readjust teeth whitening strips, to re-readjust teeth whitening strips, and to finally remove teeth whitening strips and fling them in the grass. (And okay, you can stop once for a Diet Coke with lime.) When yard is completed, stop to admire. Tell yourself that next time it won't look as though a drunk person did it.

Storing Your Equipment

Start to wheel mower back to starting position and realize it's hard to push once the motor is off. Tug/pull it halfway across the yard and decide to leave it and start there next time. Find your phone and Diet Coke and go inside.

Finishing The Job

Once inside, remove every nasty article of clothing. Consider burning them, then decide to wash them - twice - in really hot water and bleach. (Think Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner.) Go to the bath. Go immediately to the bath. Do not pass the kitchen and do not collect another Diet Coke. When you get to the bath, scrub. When you close your eyes to rinse your newly-conditioned hair, try not to think of all the hopping crickets you massacred.

Now then. The yard is mowed and you are a brand new creature. (Girls are so clever.) Pat yourself on the back for mowing the yard all by yourself, and wonder why guys always gripe about mowing. Realize that they must not know how to do it effectively. Decide to write a guide for other mowing girls to share your newly-acquired knowledge.

Write the guide. Publish it on your blog. Remember why your blog is called My Messy, Thrilling Life. Now go outside. For heaven's sake, go outside and enjoy that newly-mown lawn....

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Connor Library

I have always imagined that Paradise
will be a kind of library.
-Jorge Luis Borges

The Freeman House library. My dark, heavy-furnitured, European-salon, cigar-and-newspapers-surrounded-by-walls-and-walls-of-books sort of library is on its way. It should be completed soon save the restoration to the enormous fireplace. Still trying to find someone to take that on.

Anyhow, the library. It's called the "Connor Library" in honor of the family who owned the home at the turn of the century. The large room is to your right once you're standing in the entry hall of Freeman House. The room... it's square, has three doors and four enormous windows, and faces east. Beautiful morning light. It all sits about 5 feet off the ground, so peering out of the thick, wavy-glassed windows you glimpse hydrangeas and various tangles of green things below.

The room has nooks and wide baseboards and creaky doors. The enormous fireplace is anchored directly across from you as you enter the room. Although it takes a bit of imagination, I can already see it sparking and crackling with dancing flames and a heavily-laid table before it. Perhaps it's a winter night and we're having roast tenderloin and mashed potatoes and chocolate tart. After dinner, you can climb the ladder and pull down a book or pick up a paper as I sit at the piano and play Beethoven. When the fire dies and the old room grows quiet and dark, we'll trudge off to quilted beds, heavy as we are with home-cooked food and a treasury of words and sounds.

It's painted rather darkly, isn't it? I wanted it that way. I wanted us to think of a Jane Austen movie or an ancient English library when we entered: big, dark wood... dusty volumes... old maps. No fairies and girly flowers in here. Amber arrived Saturday like a knight in a shining bra (which she is), and together we dusted and swept and coughed and painted. She's a hero, that girl. Soon, I promised her as she left. Soon it will be done and we can waste away hours in here.

Oh, and we will. Many of us will. This beautiful room has been revived to see yet another generation of wandering feet and dreaming minds. It almost makes me cry to think of it: another family stretching out before the fire and catching up on each other's lives. Another decade of stockings hung beneath the chimney with care. Another series of meals and laughs and games going on as before....

Just like heaven will be. I'll admit: I, too, have always imagined heaven as a bit of a library. A shiny, noisy, joyful library.

Your library is your paradise.
-Desiderius Erasmus

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stillness of Heart...

Stillness of heart met wandering hooves...

... and watchful eyes...

...and nearing thunder...

... just then, two miles from Freeman House.

Never have I lived such a moment as the meeting of those three:
the horses, a storm, and my still, still heart.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Monday Moment: Peace- Given and Left

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
-John 14:27

Peace. It's a bone-filling, soul-soothing, breath-within-me-that-wasn't-mine sort of a feeling. Peace. It's real. Let me tell you how I know:

It was back in April. Months ago, I know, but I suppose I'm just now getting around to making sense of it. It was a particularly difficult week. It was a time of grief. A time of searching. It was one of those times you recognize - even in the midst of it - as a turning point. Either you'd be okay or you wouldn't. Either you would beat it or it would beat you. Perhaps you've been there? I was. This was one of those times.

I'd hung laundry on the clothesline. An entire load. I'd shuffled about, pinning and praying.

Lord, I need... I need...

When I couldn't even finish my prayer, I tearfully shrugged at the sky.

I can't... God, I don't even know....

Sobs ripped through me but wouldn't come out. I wasn't making a bit of sense. Frustrated - hopelessly exasperated by my inability to string together words for the most basic of prayers - I flung a clothespin to the ground and cried out.


I froze. I froze and stared. I stared because there, just beyond my feet, sat a white dove. A perfect white dove. A dove at my clothesline.

My breath left me, but the moment it did, something else was there. It was warm ... like chicken broth going down. Only this started within. It was... full... as though I had breath without inhaling... as though I had somehow breathed underwater. It was electric... like a fuse blowing and sparking, yet at the same time it was calming... like watching a sunset while wrapped in a quilt. It was amazing and it washed inside and over me like a wave.

I cried. The dove listened.

And it stayed. Even when I went in to get my camera, it stayed. It stayed as I cried and prayed and questioned. It stayed as I took its picture and got close. And as the sun began to set, it flew to the fence and perched there as I said goodbye.

The next morning, I hurried out. It was still there. So, too, was that feeling. I ran and got my neighbor. "Do you see that?" I cried.

"Yes," she said, slowly. "What's a dove doing here?"

It was gone by lunch. The warm, electric, breath-that's-not-my-own feeling stayed.

Neighbors, upon hearing that Freeman House was visited by a white dove, reasoned that it must have been part of the wedding the previous afternoon at the Methodist church. It had obviously gotten lost and had to land somewhere on its journey out of town.

I don't know. To this day the entire experience is more than I make complete sense of. All I can say for certain is that day, this child of God needed Him. Needed to see and talk to her Creator. And there, when she least expected it and most required it, was a dove. A dove, and the most inexplicable, awe-inspiring aura I've ever felt. Peace. Peace....

It was peace - given and left. It is there, and it's ours for the taking. Peace. Real peace. Just as He promised. Just exactly as He promised.

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

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thirteen Rolls

Well, I mean, bread, I mean...
I've got to have bread to live.
-Anthony Quinn

I can walk away from homemade pie. I can politely decline a hot-from-the-oven cookie. A slice of cake. I don't have a sweet tooth. But the bread basket? Fugeddaboutit. I now avoid Panera Bread and Cheesecake Factory and Olive Garden - three of my very favorites - because once that napkin-covered basket passes, I'm a goner.

I love fresh-baked bread. But bread and I ... we have a decidedly love/hate relationship: it loves my thighs and I hate working to keep it off them. That's why Monday - the day I baked FOUR test batches of rolls for my cookbook - was probably the most difficult day of my young life. [Grin]

Anyway, Monday aside, I thought I'd sneak you my family's all time favorite roll recipe from my upcoming cookbook. (Don't tell.) If you've never made homemade rolls, this is for you. If you're terrified to try, this recipe is for you. Just mix, dump, cut, and bake... and try not to eat five before dinner.

Texas Farmhouse Rolls

1 pkg. (1/4 oz. / 7 g) rapid rise yeast
1 c. warm water
3 T. sugar
3 T. vegetable oil
1 ½ t. salt
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast and sugar over the surface of warm water. (If you’re Alton Brown, that’s 110-115 degrees F. If you’re me, you test by taking a teaspoon full of warm water and touching it to your chin or wrist. If it’s warm – like a baby’s bottle – it’s perfect for dissolving yeast.) Let sit 2-3 minutes. Nicely swirl in vegetable oil. Add salt and flour and stir until combined.

Cover with clean towel and place in a warm, draft-free place and let rise at least one hour or until doubled in size. (If your room is cold – less than 75 degrees – it may take longer. If it’s a rainy day… and therefore the barometric pressure is low… your dough may proof much faster.) Your mixture, after several moments, will look a bit frothy and soupy, like this:

Turn dough onto floured board or counter. Adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking, knead dough 1-2 minutes. Lightly roll or flatten dough back onto floured surface. Using a knife, cut dough into pieces. (I typically get 13 rolls – a baker’s dozen – out of this recipe. You may choose to cut smaller or larger rolls depending on the crowd you’re feeding.)

Place rolls – seam side down – on a baking stone. (Or Pyrex dish... whatever.)

Cover again with towel and let rise 30-45 minutes.

Bake rolls in 350 degree F oven for 10-13 minutes, depending on desired doneness. Best served – hot from the oven – with butter, honey, jam, or gravy.

Yum! This is our go-to roll recipe, and my cookbook will feature three quick variations that will turn this simple dough into Pesto Rolls, Brown Sugar Cinnamon Rolls, and Bacon Cheddar Rolls with the addition of just a few extra ingredients. But to be sure, these are the best rolls I've ever had. Hands down. Brothers and boyfriends fight over them. Can't beat 'em.

So there you go. Thirteen rolls for your Friday the 13th. Hope you have a wonderful, safe, and homemade-rolls-and-love kind of a weekend. -Brin

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Napkins and Headbands

Think where mans glory most begins and ends,
and say my glory was I had such friends.
-William Butler Yeats

I was looking out the front windows yesterday afternoon, worrying about more rain, when I noticed it: an inconspicuous little package tucked under the porch eaves. Way under. No label. I approached it hesitantly, wondering if I'd made anyone mad recently. Ha! It was a present. From Cherie. From Cherie... a lady I've never met yet who reads this blog and shops my etsy site. What a surprise! I opened it and out tumbled perfectly folded squares of fabric, a notepad, a pink notebook, and the nicest note anyone could think to write.

(Cherie, again I thank you. I'm sure I did nothing to deserve this, so that makes you one of the most sweet and generous gals ever. And I love your taste in fabric!)

Anyway, after a happy suggestion and three seconds of smoke-pouring-from-the-ears thinking, a project plan was born. Today, my dears, it's all about napkins and headbands.

Napkins from Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol

I have one set of cloth napkins. Purchased years ago from Pier One, they are the most delicate shade of vanilla-y cream. They are perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I refuse to let anyone - especially those with gaudy Texas lipstick - near them. Even my "nice" dinners feature paper napkins. And it just won't do. Not anymore. I shudder to think what the neighbors have been saying about my paper napkin household. Therefore, by the end of the day, I will have perfect 14" x 10 1/2" cloth napkins made from Cherie's fabric and the instructions in Amy Karol's new Bend the Rules Sewing. And the new napkin set will undoubtedly be added to the Freeman House tour. As in, "now here we have the cloth napkins. No... they're not historic. What? No... they weren't Miss Freeman's. They are mine. I. made. them. Just look at the pretty napkins, won't you?"

Eh-hem.Right. My second project for the day consists of Heather Bailey's handmade headbands. I'm not sure why, but lately I've become quite the headband queen. Probably because my hair is the longest it's been since I was in kindergarten and I'm not about to cut it in the middle of summer. That or I'm using bright headbands to distract you from noticing the new AGE SPOT under my right eye. Either way, headbands rule the day.

Wow. Isn't it wonderful how blogs beget friends? How blogs connect a girl in Texas to a generous lady in Salt Lake City and suddenly napkins and headbands are born? I think it's marvelous. I think you friends are my only glory. Cherie, thanks again. And to everyone else, thanks. Thanks for being here and commenting and encouraging. I'm glad we found each other, and I hope happy finds you wherever you are today. -Brin

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

My Library in Your Livingroom

Dear Posterity,

When I die, I'd like the following three things buried with me: Dolly Lolly, certain carved-out splinters from a bridge in Brown County, and Falling Cloudberries. Everything else can be donated or kept, but these three things are going in the ground with me.

Yours Ever So Seriously,

Seriously. Seriously! Have you seen a copy of Falling Cloudberries? I am enthralled by this book. Every night for the past month I've gone to sleep with this book on my bed. It's so beautiful I want to cry. It's so yummy I want to clap. I love this book. Love it.

Someone stopped by Freeman House last week and said they just wanted to glance about the library... see what I was reading and which cookbooks I like. Of course, following countless book reports (by me) and yawning (by them), they asked where I buy my books. "Amazon," I said immediately, bewildered. "Doesn't everyone?"

Really. I'm the girl who, after college, neglected to pay her phone bill because - my gosh! - I finally lived in a city with a two story Barnes and Noble. My bill paying and self discipline is much better now, so I walk the aisles of book stores punching the title of books into my cell phone before running home and finding them - much cheaper! - on Amazon.

Anyway, last week's book visit got me thinking. So starting today, the Freeman House Book Shop - powered by Amazon.com - is open online to give everyone a chance to see what's being read and cooked from at Freeman House. Wow. We can read together. Try out recipes together. Discuss plots and songs and carrot cake together....

What fun! The link to the shop - along with my summer reading list - can be found on the right. Hope you enjoy! Since I can't welcome you all to the Freeman House library, perhaps this way I can bring the library to you. Happy reading! -Brin

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ordinary Magic (Or, Blackberry, Blackberry, Blackberry)

Such tenderness,
those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.
-Robert Hass

I wiggled out of bed Saturday morning just after the sun rose. After pulling on clothes, pulling back my hair, and pulling a $20 bill from my purse, I jumped in the Jeep and rumbled and bounced my way down to the local berry farm.

Glossy gloriousness. I'm sure I entered another world as my swinging pail and I sauntered into rows and rows of perfectly-manicured blackberries under that brilliant, painted sky.

I lost myself in those leafy, bejeweled vines. My pail and I wandered forever, snatching glossy berries the size of a thimble... no, bigger... and dropping them one by one in the bucket.

You should have held one too. I'd never seen blackberries so juicy. Or so enormous. I could only cradle three at a time without losing one to the soggy ground.
I know I speak often of magical days, but truly, it was. Dew glistened and dripped. Soft grass mushed underfoot. Plump berries tumbled into pails. The sun shone. And butterflies fluttered about me and landed everywhere - on my shoe, in the wagon, atop my buckets.
Next time you'll have to come with me. We'll make a day of it, you see, and eat a picnic lunch under the blue, blue sky and count the butterflies winging by....
... And of course, have a picking contest. Although really, on a day like this, the destination is secondary to the journey.

Blackberry, blackberry, blackberry. Now you close your eyes and say it. No... you have to say it like you're there with me... among the berries and breeze and butterflies. Yep... see? Ordinary magic, isn't it?

(My Blackberry Crumble recipe coming soon!)