Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mittens 'n Things

The nurse burst into my exam room in Dallas yesterday... shoes squeaking and chart papers rustling... and said, loudly, "Come with me to radiology, please."

I scooted off the end of the tissue paper exam table. "Sure. Why?" I asked.

"Your sonogram," she said, quickly.

Huh? I laughed. Then sighed. "Maybe there's been a chart mixup. I'm not pregnant. Could you check again?"

She gave me a long look and asked my name. Then she gave the chart a long look. Then she gave me another long look. "Come with me, please," she repeated, her eyes narrowing.

"But I'm not pregnant!" I insisted. "Why do I need a sonogram?"

"Doctors orders!" she barked. "Leave your purse here."

There are several things I really don't like. Like liver. Screaming babies in nice restaurants. Stupid drivers. Rap. Hillary Clinton. The movie Fargo. And mean nurses.

Oh, and maybe un-pregnant sonograms. They're creepy. I thought the first time I had one I'd be accompanied by a handsome, excited husband and we'd be talking baby names: James or ...? What's your mom's maiden name again? I didn't think I'd be topless in some room with a machine and a beady-eyed radiologist sporing a thin mustache. I could think of better ways to spend a Wednesday.

A few hours and several people poking my chest later, the doctor came in. "If you were trying to find a baby, I could have saved you the work," I said jokingly. "Besides, your creepy radiologist sonogrammed by boobs." She laughed. I love my doctor.

"You have a small bleeding hematoma in your left breast," she said.

"I'll take it," I said.

Thank God it wasn't breast cancer. I've been really, really concerned.

I left the hospital and stopped in Target to get some bottled water. And mittens. I'm not sure why I bought mittens, but I did. Like eight of them.

Might have to have a little work done tomorrow. Thought I'd be up front about it all in the hopes that it will save me some email answering and a plethora of phone calls. If you haven't heard from me lately, this is why. And if you don't hear from me for a few more days, this is why.

In the meantime, my new mittens and I hold you close to my heart.... -Brin

Monday, January 28, 2008

Doing Instead of Talking

Sorry folks - no Monday Moment today. Remember all that resoluting about mattering? Well today at Freeman House we're doing instead of talking. Special thanks go out this morning to Rick and my Minnesota gal Kathi; Rick donated tons of shampoo, conditioner, and hand lotions, and Kathi sent two enormous boxes of Colgate toothpaste - straight from the manufacturer - to add to the goodies we're making up for Hope Haven, a local women and children's shelter run by the Highway 80 Mission. God bless y'all real good, as my crotchety old neighbor Mrs. Carpenter would say.

Also, to those of you who rushed over to order Scrappy Bags, thanks. That's a few of them, above. I was tickled with the way they came together, and hope you will be, too. They're all in the mail... straight to you from Freeman House. Enjoy! (And you should know that a percentage of all Freeman House Shop purchases goes toward youth outreach ministries in east Texas. So God bless y'all real good, too.)

Yep, today we're doing instead of talking. (Or reading online devotionals.) So smile at someone today. Make a phone call. Send a letter. Buy someone dinner. Pray for someone. Tell someone you love them. It doesn't take much to matter.

'I tell you the truth,
whatever you did for one of the least
of these brothers of mine,
you did for Me.'
-Matthew 25:40

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Leisure Hours

I would not exchange my leisure hours
for all the wealth in the world.
-Comte de Mirabeau

The worst thing about being sicker than a dog-kicking nun-tripper is you miss out on so much: meals you have to chew... sunny afternoons... church. But the up side is satisfactory enough: leisure hours.

I love being in my room. Miss it when I'm away. So today, after forcing myself to wash and hang curtains out to dry (blech), I settled into fluffy pillows to watch CBS Sunday Morning. Do y'all ever catch it? I became addicted while working for CBS, and it's my favorite info-tainment program ever.

Anyway, add to the sunny morning a stop-in from a darling friend (bearing pink tulips... enough for a pot on each nightstand!), and I'm in sick business. Can't seem to stop glancing over at the two beautiful pots on either side of my comfy, cozy bed and gasping at the pretty sight.

Tomorrow I'll be well, but I think I'll be sick right here for the rest of the day. You would probably want to, too, if you were here.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sweet Tea: The Cure for What Ails

We southern girls love our sweet tea. For many of us, it's a necessity. A link to our families and memories. I'm no exception. My days... every one of them... are accompanied by a tall, cool glass of sweet tea. Even in the throws of January.

I came down with something nasty Thursday night. I got out of bed twice yesterday, I think - once to take out the trash and once to see to the mail. Nearly fell over in the road and rested both times. I kept thinking that maybe I was just really tired, for some reason, until I realized that I dialed my telephone banking service and had somehow pressed "2" instead of "1" and had been responding to the nice Spanish-speaking lady. For 14 minutes and 36 seconds. I can't be sure, but I may have transferred all my money to Guatemala. Yep, think I'm sick. So I took something and watched Monk and then slept. Slept and slept and slept.

When most people are sick they want chicken soup and flat Dr. Pepper and Saltines and things of that nature, right? Not me. When I'm sick I (never fail) wish for the following: chocolate pudding and orange juice. Cold things. Always. But this time I've prayed for peanut butter cookies and iced tea. (My peanut butter cookies. I may be partial, but they're the best.) Since I'm not eating carbs at the moment... and haven't been in almost a month... the cookies would have to wait. So iced tea it is. Let's talk tea.

It should be noted that southern iced tea is nothing like its hot, British counterpart. (I was surprised to learn this week that one in every eight people who read this blog are reading from somewhere in the United Kingdom. So I hope one in eight of you doesn't take offense.) Sweet iced tea is a concoction all its own, and although every family has its own method... usually involving a special pot or kettle... here's how my mother taught me. And I should point out that we're both known for our iced tea.

Southern Iced Tea

½ cup loose tea leaves, or 2 family-sized tea bags
2 ½ cups cool water
1 cup sugar, or preferred sweetener to taste

Pour cool water into a saucepan over medium high flame. Add tea leaves or tea bags. (I like Luzianne. Have always used Luzianne.) Heat just until boiling, then remove from heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Pour brewed tea into a clean gallon pitcher or jar. Add cold water until pitcher is almost full. Stir in sugar until dissolved. Keep in back of refrigerator for a few hours before serving.

Since I'm staying away from flour and sugar, I usually have two tea pitchers stirred up and ready: sweet and unsweet. I prefer my tea with Stevia and mint... or sometimes with lime... but most of my favorite folks prefer it as described above. (With a few exceptions, of course. My mom never drinks hers without lemon, and her mom stirs 1 1/2 cups sugar into her pitcher.)

Yes, I realize it's crazy to be talking tea in the dead of winter. But you almost forget it's winter with a glass of sweet tea at your lips. (This coming from the girl who puts "freshly cut grass" and "sweet tea" at the top of her Favorite Things Ever list....)

I'm also the girl who needs to call her bank and see what in the world kind of Spanish transfers I made yesterday.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Scrappy Bags... Or Pieces of Pretties

I love pretty wisps of things. Fabric scraps. Old buttons. Vintage wallpaper bits. Lengths of ribbon and bias tape and Ric Rac. Sweet sewing patterns. Sitting among these pieces of pretties is like playing in your beautiful grandmother's sewing basket. I could play in them all day.

In fact, I have been. And in doing so, I realized there's enough to share. So if you've been itching for a bag full of new odds and ends, head on over to the Freeman House Shop on Etsy and grab one of your very own. But hurry. There aren't many.

No pretty piece pressure or anything. *wink*

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Emerging Excitement

Good morning from the Freeman House dining room, where the sun has finally decided to show herself. It's been gray and cold here since I've come home, and I'm thrilled to see the old girl slip her golden morning magic through the cracks and windows. Where have you been, dear? We've missed you.

The dining room is doubling as an indoor potting shed today. It's too cold to be out but seeds won't usually jump in dirt and sprout themselves. Soil and spades and seeds on the floor and table? Oh my. My Mother would strongly disapprove. If you'd told me that one day I'd have a rambling old house to scatter organic soil in as I pleased, I would have been incredulous. And horrified. But mostly incredulous. I love this old place.

Along that line, some exciting things happened here yesterday. BIG THINGS. Lovely, lovely, happy things. Let's just say that Freeman House is expanding. In square footage and online! Remember the new blog/website I mentioned? I hope you'll love it as much as I do. And can you say Freeman House Cottage? (Excuse me while I do a little dance.) We're making room for guests and gardens. Think homemade cookies and lavender lemonade. Country sky star gazing. Porch-side knitting classes. Line-dried, quilt-covered beds. Herb gardens. A library. Fences threaded with tangles of roses. Old bicycles and creek-side trails.

Yep. You love it. Almost as much as I do. It's thrilling around here, I'm telling you. Even the sun's emerged to check it out....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Spoons and Pins

It is only the modern
that ever becomes old-fashioned.
-Oscar Wilde

Due to a generous bonus from an oil company client, I treated myself to a KitchenAid stand mixer this Christmas. It's enormous and has all the attachments and hooks and motors. It's also still in its box. Until I have need of making meringue or homemade whipped cream, it's staying there.

Kid you not. I am not crazy about noisy kitchen gadgets. I am over-the-moon crazy for quiet old spoons. This weekend I bought another ancient wooden spoon to add to my growing collection of ancient wooden spoons. I have several that are hand-carved. I have others that are worn smooth and thin with time. All of them wordlessly brag of generations of care and use. I wrap my fingers around their handles and wonder where they came from. What they've made. I wonder whose birthday cake they mixed. Whose soup they stirred. Whose bottom they paddled. (wink)

And please don't get me started on rolling pins. I collect wooden ones, of course. Just the wooden ones. They're so romantic; one glance tells you someone... somewhere... used these beauties to fill a pie safe and feed their sweetheart. I imagine cherry pies with lattice tops and golden buttermilk biscuits and thick, crumbly sugar cookies and bubbly chicken pot pies and hot, fried peach pockets. I can just picture the pin in a drain board, all clean and dripping, as its family scoots up to the old farmhouse table to eat their dinner and grin their grins.

Tell me that's not more romantic than a noisy KitchenAid mixer. Yes, I'm looking forward to adding to the legacy of my spoons and pins. It's only the modern that ever becomes old fashioned, after all....

(Side Note: Please be sure to get in on the chance to win a FREEMAN HOUSE CARE PACKAGE by helping our friends at A Place to Bark. You just may find yourself the winner of an antique rolling pin to go with that book and apron! See sidebar for details.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Monday Moment: The Deception

Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
-Proverbs 31:30

Oh, but we're all about the charm and the beauty. To us... even as Christians... the measure of a woman is her beauty and charm.

I've been giving this some thought lately. With my marriage over and buried a year ago this past weekend, folks around me are strongly encouraging me to get back into the dating scene. Over Christmas, even family and friends bombarded me with: Are you seeing anyone? and, I've found the perfect guy for you! Yeah. Sure you have. I've laughed.

Yesterday a friend asked me, What ARE you looking for in a guy, Brin? I paused and then gave my standard Patty Griffin answer: "strong and kind and clever". And what should he be looking for in you? my wise friend asked. This time I paused but said nothing.

It's a shame, I think. As we raise our children, we teach them to look for someone smart. Mannerly. Beautiful. We coach them to find someone with good teeth or hair... a good work ethic... good automobiles... good families. We encourage our sons to find a pretty girl... especially one who can cook or isn't afraid to work. We tell our daughters to go after the quarterback... or at least not to settle for an unattractive man who treats her poorly or won't spend money on her.

And those things are important. To all of us. But they're not the point. We're missing the point entirely. We're tossing dozens of arrows at the target and missing the bulls eye. We're buying the deception and gift wrapping it for those around us. We're entrusting our family tree to diploma-carrying, pressed-khaki-wearing, Comedy Central-watching, income-potential-offering young people who have no willingness or desire to exemplify the single characteristic we should be crying out for: a person who fears the Lord.

Where am I going with this? I'm going here: we have it all wrong. As we look at ourselves in the mirror, our potential or current partners out of the corner of our eye, and our family trees down the line, we're still scribbling "charm" and "beauty" at the top of our must-have lists. We're placing far too much emphasis on the external at the expense of the eternal. We're becoming shallow, in this world and of it people who dishonor our God by the priorities we choose and the people we chase.

Strong, kind, and clever. Hmm. I do want a man like that. And charming and beautiful? I want to be that girl, too. But above all, my heart and my family tree cries out for someone who fears the Lord. Where are these people?

Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a significant other... a child... a friend... an in-law... an ordinary man or ordinary woman... who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Monday Moment is a little devotional to help kick-start your week. See you again next time!
UPDATE: Please read the comments to this post for clarification(s)!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Strawberry Sugar Bread

There are some days, you understand - days when Old Man Winter shakes an icy, gnarled finger at you - that you simply must shake a finger back. Today is such a day.

Start by digging deep, deep down in the freezer for the strawberries you lovingly grew, picked, and hulled back in June. Plop them into the prettiest old bowl you have and let them thaw. Gently crush with a fork until you have one cup of mushed strawberries. Tip into a saucepan and cook, over medium heat, until just boiling. Cook one minute more, then remove from heat and cool.

Now assemble the following: 1 3/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, one teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder. (Not bacon powder.) Dump the lot of it into a sifter, if you wish, and sift. Close your eyes and rest against your warm counter top and listen to the old sifter scrape powdery heaps into your pretty old bowl. Decide you're happy.

Take your happiness and find 1/3 cup butter (softened) and 3/4 cup sugar and beat until fluffy. To that, add 2 eggs (room temperature) and 1/3 cup (minus 1 teaspoon) of water. Fill the teaspoon - the one you just dumped the water out of - with vanilla extract. Mix it all in with the butter and sugar.

Lovely. Now add your butter mixture to the pile of dry ingredients and mix. Over it, pour the cooled, crushed summer strawberries and a 1/3 cup pecans or walnuts. (Toast them if you wish, or leave them out altogether - your preference.) Now combine it all thoroughly, spoon into a greased baking dish, and bake at 350 F for one hour.

Poor Old Man Winter. He stands no chance against fresh, buttered Strawberry Sugar Bread. Especially when it's accompanied by a steaming cup of tea in a warm kitchen....

Hoping happiness and warmth find and hold you this weekend. -Brin

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

So Much To Miss

Seems as though your house... and your things... always look different when you return home. I'm such a stuff person, although I want desperately not to be. When I'm far away, I catch myself missing things. Things like my pretty, white dishes. My flowers. My clothes and clothespins and clothesline. My clawfoot tub. My comforter and pillow. My desk with all its papers and books and calendars and files and clutter.

I miss the food, too. My own cooking. I miss my oven and its warm, homemade cookies. I miss fresh, speckled eggs. I miss my aprons and cookbooks and worn wooden spoons. I miss sitting at the piano and hearing this music leave my fingers and float throughout the house, filling every nook and corner and gap in the floor boards...
It's funny to me how ... when I was fourteen?... how badly I hated learning this Sonatina (Clementi, Opus 36, Number 1 - performed here by Szokolay). Now it's one of my favorites, and one of the first to be played when I don't have sheet music to read from. It's locked in my brain somehow, this piece of melodic chaos. It's just as much a part of my life as my brothers... my elbows... and my college diploma are.
Anyway. It's good to be home. There's so much to miss when one's away, isn't there? So, so much...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Where I'm Headed...

It's not where you are today that counts.
It's where you are headed.
-Arthur Lenehan

...and I'm headed home to Freeman House. You know, until Monday anyway. I plan to make a bundt cake and that jam I was talking about. I plan to see friends and take long soaks in the old clawfoot tub and plant garlic and these heirloom roses I ordered over the holiday.

After I'm done with all that, I'm going to knit this gauzy wrap and wander around the house, all clean and ethereal and at peace. (Because that's how days are at Freeman House, and I miss that.) And if you come knocking and I don't answer, it's likely because I'm piled high in my fluffy, iron bed with a book and the remote.

Oh no. It's not where we are right now that counts. It's where we're headed. See you in a few days! -Brin

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Break of the Highest Order...

Off on break, folks. The trouble with a messy, thrilling life is that it is messy and it is thrilling. And it never stops... only pauses as people get on and off the ride. (Laughing)

Will explain later and be back as I can.

(And for those who are wondering, yes. This is their new china.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Freeman House Journal: January 10, 2005

It's cold in this old house. The window's broken in the study... the top, middle pane. Looks as if a bird or a rock or a fist flew through it, leaving jagged shards as a reminder of the assault. I wonder how long it's been that way. Twenty years? Fifty? Ninety? I'll try to tape it up tomorrow.

I suppose it would help if this place had electricity. Insulation. Old newspapers stuffed in the wooden walls. Something. I moved my iron bed into the former dining room/sitting room/bedroom, the warmest room in the house, and am under all the covers I have. Mae is under here with me. I wonder who's trying to get warmth from whom.

We painted the old woodwork between the entry hall and the "great room" today, Mae and I did. (I'm still calling it the "great room" because I have no idea what purpose the room will serve.) Lori told me it's the room Miss Freeman lived in before she left and died. I guess as she got older and more brittle, Miss Freeman shut up one room, then another, then another, until her life was confined to the great room, nearest the front door, and the bath. I wonder if she knew how badly the roof leaked in the back hall, or what a mess her roses in the yard had become. It must have been a very small world she lived in, here inside this house.

But I know Lori's right about this being Miss Freeman's last room. There are rocking chair impressions rutted into the linoleum. An old phone list thumb-tacked to the wall, right between two white frame shadows on the peach sheetrock. It's odd to stare at those marks where the pictures used to hang. I get a strange feeling, like I'm seeing something I shouldn't. I wonder what - or who - looked out from those frames. There are no other nail holes in the walls, just those inside the frame stains.

Of course, Miss Freeman wasn't the only one whose life played out in this house. Tonight, right after it got dark, I made my way to the front door and its cold, slick windows. I wondered, as I leaned against them, who else had stood in my same position, a hundred years before, and pressed their forehead and palms to the glass, watching. Waiting. I wondered whose feet had worn footprints into the floor boards. Whose fingers had turned the old brass knobs and lost the skeleton keys that locked them tight. I wondered what I would think of these people and what they would think of me. This may be my house now, but I still share it. I share it with rooms full of memories and lives that have gone before.

I'm tired. Tired of working and tired of thinking. And my fingers are too cold to write anymore. Hopefully tomorrow will be warmer and I can make some headway on clearing out that back cabinet. I hope, anyway.


(The entry in my Freeman House Renovation Journal, three years ago today.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cookery Abandon and Anticipation

Cooking is like love.
It should be entered into with abandon.
-Harriet Van Horne

My, but we cooked and ate well at Freeman House in 2007! Going through some pictures over the holidays, I couldn't believe how many I had of food. And the garden. It was a great year for several things: potatoes, squash, strawberries and tomatoes. The herbs were wonderful, too, and the freezer is full to its frosty top with homemade pesto and stewed berries and tomato sauce. At least I hope it still is. It was when I was there last. (Wink)

I'm eager to be home and cooking again. And taking pictures again. I've been extremely unhappy with the pictures I've taken over the past year. They've gotten better, but they're not good. I went to the trouble of writing one of my favorite bloggers over Christmas and got some photography advice. What camera to buy, what lens to train on, what manual to use. I always said I liked taking pictures because it was impulsive: see something quaint or quirky or quiet and snapsnapsnap. No thought to it... just see and snap. I'm afraid that now that I'm actually having to try to do it right I'll stop enjoying it. Yick. If that happens we're going back to poorly composed, blurry shots. That's all there is to it.

It'll be fun to see. It'll be amusing to watch this year as recipes are tried and perfected and sampled and shared. I'm already excited just thinking of it.

Until then, I wanted to thank you all properly for the food love in 2007. For those who tried things along with me... thanks. You tickled me strawberry-smoothie pink. And for those who have yet to join in, I promise we'll find a stirring of something that will be worth jumping into the kitchen for. I just know there will be.

[More information for April, and those who've asked: the camera I've used for all my pictures is this one. Great for landscape shots; crap for anything else. Especially close ups. The camera I have my eye on (and the one Lisa uses) is this. (Gulp.) I'll probably end up with this, or something like it. We'll see.]

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Book Love, Love, Love

A good book is the best of friends,
the same today and forever.
-Martin Farquhar Tupper

My job is nonstop. I'm sure many of you know how that is, whether you mind house or mind a boss. In the oil and gas industry, companies pay handsomely but for that they require your soul. Or so it seems lately.

But tonight there's a thunderstorm and I'm finished before 7 PM and I have a stack of books waiting, thanks to a midnight madness order off Amazon. So before I'm off to read, let's talk books, shall we?

The book above, The Thirteenth Tale, is astounding. I'm only on chapter three, because I picked it up last night after completing a 63-page report, but so far it may be my favorite book. And I mean ever. I adore it. Whatever may come next, I want it carefully noted that the first few chapters of this took me to a world I don't want to leave. The narrative is seamlessly sloppy, which I love, and strong. It sings. I can't wait to get under the covers and drink more in.

Then there's this gem: Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. Even the title makes me giggle. And everyone's raving over it. I've read bits and pieces of it... here and there. Have any of you read it through? It's hard to put down, but I managed somehow and now I wish I hadn't. But it's to be continued very, very soon.

A journal I've been working through for almost a year now... Finding God in the Broken Places. Don't pretend you don't have them, broken places. We all do. When I've been open, and ready to heal, I've found it's really spoken to and encouraged me. Maybe it will you, too.

And oh. The Crafter's Companion. Beg, borrow, or buy this... or steal a friend's copy. You won't be sorry. She will, but you won't. This baby will have any crafter slobbering and gasping and clapping and ... craving a new project. I love books like this one.

And this. Knitting Nell. Talk about mattering. Any girl, young or old, who does or wants to knit should have this book. I read it several times a week and the end almost makes me cry everytime. Even on the twelveteenth time. Besides Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, it's my favorite children's book.

Oh gosh. I'd hang around and talk book love but I'm zonked and my current paper fling is calling. Let me know about your loves and current crushes, too. We'll dish. -Brin

Monday, January 7, 2008

Monday Moment: You Should Know...

I know some days it feels like you're just one of the crowd.

As the days come and days go, you're busy blowing this way and bending that.
Just trying to make it through the week.
Trying to stifle the hurt or outlast this illness or pay that bill...
...or not go crazy.

And sometimes you wish... you just wish...
that someone would look you in the eye and see you.
See your life for what you're really going through.
Feel your days like you're feeling them now.
Brave it all with you.

It would be a relief to be noticed.
Focused on.
Not that you feel you deserve it, but because you need it.

But perhaps you know. Surely you do:
You are not just one of the crowd.
Not to the One who made you.
As you're blowing and bending, He's supporting and holding.
As you're longing to be seen, He's already watching.
As you're feeling the weight of your days, He's feeling it, too.
(Just think of how heavy they'd be if He weren't there.)
And when you're all out of brave... when you're on your last laugh...
He has one. You can borrow His.

Beautiful you.
You who are special, seen, and appreciated.
Today. Right now.
Not for what you do but for who (Whose) you are.

You’re not alone. You and your cares aren’t forgotten.
And they won’t be.
Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

Just thought you should know.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. -Isaiah 49:15-16

(Pictures taken at and around Freeman House, 2007.)
Monday Moment is a little devotional to help kick start your week. See you again next Monday!