Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Savory Scones

Savory scones: the perfect winter food. Why? Well, homemade scones are light, tender, and heavenly. They're perfect steamy from the oven or chilly from the fridge. Scones are perfect for dunking in soups, sopping up gravies and sauces, building a sandwich or munching with salads. And best of all? Scones are silly easy to make and usually ready in half an hour, no kneading or machines necessary.

I dare you to find a better winter bread.

These are Cheddar Scallion Scones, a recipe I created by blending the richness of Ina Garten's Cheddar-Dill Scones with Farmgirl's Cheese and Scallion ones. Last night I had a tiny bit of cheddar cheese left in the fridge, along with three skinny scallions leftover from Saturday night's homemade fried rice binge. (The best thing about living alone? Indulging your crazy food cravings whenever you feel like it and not having to explain to anyone!)

So if you're interested - and really, you want to be - here's the recipe. I thought I'd share this one, since there probably wouldn't be as many takers for my favorite scone: Rosemary Blue Cheese with Honey.

Yeah, I thought so.


3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 heaping tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz. (1/2 block) cream cheese, very soft
3 scallions, chopped (use green and white parts)
1 egg
1 cup heavy cream (or half-n-half or whole milk)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Add cheddar cheese and mix twice (or so) to coat cheese with flour. Fold in cream cheese until just barely mixed, then add scallions, tossing to coat. In separate bowl, lightly beat together egg and heavy cream (or whatever you have on hand; I usually use whole milk). Quickly add egg mixture to flour and cheese mixture and stir until just combined. (Don't work it to death. Rubbery scones are out this year.)

Dump dough onto floured counter and pat into a circle about 1 generous inch thick. Dip sharp knife in flour and cut into eight large triangles (as you would a slice of pizza). If desired, brush tops with butter or with an egg wash (1 egg plus 1 T. water, beaten together). Bake on baking sheet or stone lined with parchment paper for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve hot from oven, or allow to cool and place in plastic bag or airtight container and refrigerate or freeze. Scones freeze beautifully.

That's it. Couldn't be much easier. I'm making a batch of Jalapeno Cheddar Scones to take my Dad today for New Year's Eve. There's no better way to get a stubborn old man to eat his scones. [laugh]

Last post of 2008. Wow. Thanks for spending time with me this year. May God bless our 2009! -Brin

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Calendars got here. Late, but at least they got here, right? I eagerly ripped into them and began flipping pages like a mad woman: January... February... March... April... May... June... August... Sep...?

Oop. Skipped July. So I flipped back: September...August... June... May... ?

What in the world?!

I pulled out another. Then another. May... June... August. No July. In any of them. I threw an entire box of calendars against the library wall and screamed. I screamed so hard my chest hurt.

The printing company told me that the file I uploaded to their "secure" system apparently never "received the July page". I'm looking at the file I created and uploaded. It has July, I tell the man on the phone. He apologizes, then sits in silence. So what... you print a calendar without July? You don't contact me first to see if there was an issue with my file? You print an ELEVEN MONTH CALENDAR?

To shut me up, he gets a supervisor on the phone. They agree to reprint 50% of my order for free, but tell me that I'll have to pay to reprint the other half of my order. But I don't have the money, I tell them. I already gave you the money.

I can't tell you how badly this Baptist Sunday School teacher wanted to say cuss words at them. I was - and still am - angry. But then I think about all the people who are dealing with real issues today: hunger, death, disease, grief, war and heartbreak, and I realize that a calendar is just that: a calendar. A few pieces of paper. It's not the end of the world.

So. For those who've been waiting sweetly - patiently - for your calendars, I regret to tell you that we'll have to wait another few days. I'm so, so, so sorry. I can't tell you how ready I was to ship these out and get it all done with. Once the calendars arrive (with July this time), I'll begin shipping, starting with those who ordered first and have been waiting the longest. The most recent orderers may have to wait while I scramble to scrape together the cash to pay for the last lot of calendars.

So frustrating. And I'd hoped to have them to you as a happy New Year's thing? And I did this to try to make money?! Sheesh. What a disappointment.

Maranatha, God. Maranatha. Whether we're talking calendars or the end of days, it's not much fun down here right now.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Just in case it's all snowy or cloudy or nasty where you are, I thought I'd show you my broccoli. Here. Have another peep:

Every now and then, it's good to glimpse a garden. Puts hope in the soul again somehow. (At least it does mine. But I am rather strange that way.)

Last weekend of 2008. Where did the time go?

Friday, December 26, 2008

God's Peculiar Light

I live and love in God's peculiar light.

It was a Christmas of light and hope. All week long, I lived and loved in God's peculiar light.

Christmas Eve. I was at my childhood home, waiting for two of my college-aged brothers (I have three) to get home. One was rushing home from a catering job he had worked. The other? Where was Sam? We needed to hurry and pile in the car and take off for our grandmother's house, where we were to spend Christmas morning with family. Soon Sam pulled up. He came through the door calling my name.

Come and see, he said, grinning and breathless.

We walked together to his car, where Sam opened the back door to reveal box after box of shoes. Bag after bag of socks. I gasped.

It's for your shoe drive
, he said simply.

But Sam had already given five pairs of shoes for my Shoes for Orphan Souls campaign. He did it to help reach my goal of 250 pairs of shoes by Valentine's Day, which is a lofty goal in my tiny, economically-depressed community.

Sam! You shouldn't have done this. You've already done more than enough! I told him.

I didn't, he replied.

Turns out they were from Tony, a man who works at the small hardware store with my brother. Sam explained that Mr. Tony doesn't have a car... doesn't have much, really... but is the happiest, most cheerful man Sam's ever met. He lives alone and makes his house payment, gas bill and buys food, my brother explained. But sometimes Tony doesn't have the money to keep his water on. You'd never know it, though. According to Tony, he's blessed beyond measure.

So how did he buy all these shoes? I asked. Mr. Tony, it turns out, won a raffle he entered at the hardware store a few weeks ago. His prize was a $100 gift card to WalMart. As Mr. Tony was getting dressed Christmas Eve morning, he pulled a pair of socks from his drawer and remembered a long-ago Christmas. He told my brother that he recalled, as a child, getting a new pair of shoes and socks for Christmas. It was all my mother could afford, Tony told him. She'd saved a dollar to buy each of us something that year. I got brand new shoes. I loved those shoes.

So Tony knew what he would do. He walked to the hardware store on Christmas Eve and gave my brother that entire gift card, instructing him to hurry to WalMart and buy all the socks and shoes he could.

I cried. And as Sam and I transferred the shoes and socks into my car, we decided: we had to do something wonderful for Mr. Tony. Right then. Before we left for Christmas at our grandmother's.

We didn't have much. Sam makes hourly wages at the hardware store and I've been out of work since early November. What could we do for Mr. Tony? We were still trying to decide when my other brother burst through the front door with an enormous cardboard box. Help me, Smitty! he yelled. Sam winked at me then reclined back in our father's armchair and yawned loudly. The box, then, was dumped in his lap. (Brothers.) Sam groaned. The box was weighed down with leftover gourmet food from that catering job: turkey, beef tenderloin, salads, dips, breads, candies, sweets and a sweet potato pie. There's no room in the fridge, Sam told our brother. Then he looked at me. We grinned at each other.

We took the box, along with a tin of homemade fudge, to Mr. Tony's. His house was rundown. Shabby. We knocked on the door but Mr. Tony didn't answer. Fearing dogs and cats would tear into the box, we eased open his front door and put the food just inside. The house was well-kept, but cold and dark. A lonely couch and a space heater sat against one wall. That was it. No TV, no lamps, no tables or pictures or Christmas tree or strands of lights or presents or anything. Just a couch and a rickety heater.

And he gave his Christmas to us for the orphans, I said. The three of us looked at each other. Then quietly, Sam backed out of the drive and turned on Christmas music. In the backseat, I tried to blink away tears.

We live and love in God's peculiar light.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
... And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.
-Isaiah 58:9, 10

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. -John 1:14

The promise became a baby who became my Savior and the light of the world. Blessed be His name!

Warm and beautiful wishes to you and yours this Christmas season, and always. -Brin

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Five Dollar, Thirty Minute Scarf

I was telling a friend about this scarf last night and she was psyched. A handmade scarf? For five dollars? That you can make in 30 minutes? That you can make without sewing or knitting or anything? Tell me. Tell me how.

I did, but then ended up sending her to this lovely link, where Martha breaks down the scarf's construction for us. (I'm still in the clammy/confused state - although I feel loads better! - and didn't want to ruin her $5/30 minute scarf plans.)

Mine's a bit wobbly and free form, but I like it that way. My friend's was a bit more structured and exact, and she liked hers that way. But either way, we agreed: this scarf is a perfect last minute, inexpensive gift. -Brin

(If you end up making one, leave us a comment with a link to your scarf. We want to see, too!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Warm, Pretty Thoughts

Thank you for all the thoughts and wishes and prayers you've sent my way. I'm still here - not prettily standing atop books with fairy lights, unfortunately - but rather under six quilts, clutching a mug of vanilla hot cocoa and thinking all the warm, pretty thoughts I can. But as soon as I feel better, I might look for a room this beautiful and try balancing on books. We'll see.

Doesn't that picture just make you think pretty Christmas thoughts? Maybe it's the medicine, but it does me. I found this shot in Handknit Holidays, a book I added to my Christmas wish list a bit ago. (Along with this and then this Christmas album. Have you heard Sara Groves?) Anyway, can you believe those socks? If I was a good friend or all-around great girl, I'd knit you all a pair of those socks and send them along with a strand of fairy lights. Then we could all balance on top of books and feel warm and pretty and maybe, if only for a moment, our worlds would be a tiny bit better. If only for a moment.

Okay. Shutting this pretty party down. I've reread this post 17 times and get more confused each time. (On the paragraph above, I had "tiny better bit better" written, and was nearly in tears trying to figure out how to fix it.) Oh dear. What am I even doing on the internet, anyway?

I'm going back to my ethereal music and warm sock thoughts. Meet you back here Monday. -Brin

(By the way, check out these fairy lights made from paper egg cartons. Delightful! I'm definitely trying these after the new year...)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Did Someone Say SALE?

Someone did. I think it was me. Just popping in to let you know that there's a Christmas markdown SALE at the Freeman House Shop through Thursday. If you're still coming up empty on what to get Miss What's-Her-Name, maybe I can help. (And if you'd like me to direct ship a pretty apron along with a card containing your Christmas message to giftee, that's not a problem.)

Happy shopping! -Brin

Monday, December 15, 2008

And The Doctor Says...

The doctor says I have walking pneumonia. It explains the unbelievable exhaustion, mind-numbing chills and all the blood I've been coughing up. Be back as soon as I feel up to it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pink for the Weekend

I love pretty pink things.

Sick. Sure enough. Spent the past two nights sleeping in front of my parents' wood stove and drinking steaming things and watching cheezy Christmas movies and laughing with my brothers and sister and cuddling with soft puppy Millie. Felt awful, but the time with my family was priceless.

But now back to pretty pink things. This weekend I'm stocking the Freeman House Shop with Christmas aprons, like the pink snowflake cutie above. I'm also elbow-deep in other pink delights. In no particular order:

These Pink Snowflakes
These Pink Cocoa Cups
These Pink Marshmallows

Everyone needs a pretty pink weekend every now and then, huh? -Brin

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Let It Snow

There's snow in the forecast this afternoon. Snow! In Texas. It "snows" here once... maybe twice... a year, usually in February or March. Never in December.

I can't remember a colder Christmas season than the one we're seeing this year. This morning it was 39 degrees in the house when I woke up. Seven ticks above freezing. My breath hung around and followed me like a shadow. No wonder I stay sick! No wonder this is the first autumn/winter I've ever spent in the house; it's nearly too cold to function here. Time to turn on the oven and keep the cold at bay. Let's bake the snow away....

There. Much better. Vanilla Chai Snowflake Cookies, hastily iced. Light the oil lamps, put on the kettle, and grab the puppy and the quilts....

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Patriotic Patchwork Prayer

This is a story about an apron and a prayer. If you don't mind, I'd like to tell you about it.

I was looking for another fabric entirely. But this morning as I dug through my material bin, I came across strips of patriotic cloth I've been hoarding for a quilt. As the roll of fabric unfurled, I thought of a flag. Of the stripes on a flag. And in moments, without even thinking, I was at the sewing machine stitching strips into fabric.

As I sewed I began thinking about all the women who are missing someone this Christmas. I thought of all the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends and friends that have a loved one overseas. I thought about the women with heavy hearts who pray - every moment - for a soldier or sailor or Marine. Who pray that he'll be safe... that she'll be well... that he'll come home quickly. Please, come home quickly.

So I began praying, too. As I stitched I prayed for families who are apart this Christmas. I prayed for ones who will wake up Christmas morning without the one they love. And I prayed for the woman who will one day wear this apron. I prayed that, whoever she is, she'll be comforted and blessed whenever she ties on the apron's red, white and blue strings.

And as I prayed, I remembered. I remembered a story I heard about a Grandmother who quilted for her grandchildren. Before she sewed up each quilt, the Grandmother would pencil a prayer onto a slip of paper and quilt it inside the blanket's layers. So I followed that precious Grandmother's lead. I wrote a simple prayer for a patriotic woman I don't even know and her loved one who's so far away. I wrote my prayer and stitched it safely inside. Then I ironed the apron and pinned on its flower.

I hope this apron, which will hit the Freeman House Shop this afternoon, has wings. I hope it and its prayer eventually fly into the life of a loving and hopeful woman somewhere.

And if it's you... if you're reading... my prayers and hopes are with you this Christmas.

May our never-failing God bless our military and its precious families. -Brin

(Update: the apron has sold, but judging by the email response to this post, I may do another Patriotic Prayer Apron. And to all you who've written, I'm overwhelmingly touched by your notes and stories, and pledge to keep each of you in my prayers this season. Especially you boys in Afghanistan and Iraq. You do us proud. Thank you.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Handmade Christmas

You should be here this afternoon. It's about to rain and the trees are lit. Christmas music is playing and outside the wavy glass windows the wind is blowing. Cookies are in the oven and the kettle is on. And, if you get around the mile-high pile of packages awaiting the postal truck, it's somewhat cozy in here.

I've knitted so many House Helper Sets this holiday season that I'm sure I'll be sick if I have to do another. Madelyn ordered 14 sets as gifts, which I was thrilled to do. I finished her pile the week of Thanksgiving and have since been working on five others. They'll land in the Freeman House Shop tonight. After that I'm retiring from knitting. At least for a week.

This past weekend a car-load of folks and I drove to Jefferson for the annual Christmas Candlelight Tour. We stood in the cold and waited to traipse through the beautiful old homes (and one restored Civil War saloon) and get Christmas decorating ideas. I have such an enormous crush on Jefferson. If you've never been, you must. Make plans to go next year. My favorite house on this season's tour was the Sagamore, a circa 1852 home built exactly like Freeman House. (You can see it by clicking on the Tour link above.) Although the rule for all houses on the tour is natural decorations and candlelight only... no artificial or electric nonsense... the Sagamore went a step further and displayed only period decorations. There were bowls of apples and cranberries and nuts. There were stockings and pastries. There were swags of greenery and berries and pine cones. There were rag balls and a simple tree. And the candles and fires in the fireplaces were wonderful. The four of us stood huddled around the dining room fire and I felt like I was living a homespun Christmas, Charles Dickens' style. Lovely. I adored that night.

As much as I'd love a sit-and-chat, I must be off. Two enormous party trays await henrybella's brownies, cookies and truffles, and for some odd reason, the goodies won't make themselves. Ah well. It's the handmade things that are best after all. Whether we're talking knitting, decorations or food, handmade is always best. ...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Quick Note...

... regarding the Freeman House calendars. As outlined on the Etsy page where they were sold, all calendars will be shipped on or about December 20th. I haven't even seen mine yet. (And I pray my most fervent prayers that the date is, in fact, accurate, and the printer doesn't miss that deadline. Judging by the flood of emails I've gotten screaming, "Where's my calendar?! I ordered a month ago!!!", I'm scared to death of what some of you calendar-hungry folks might do if they're late. I am truly scared. *wink*)

Just so you know. I'm excited about mine, too, and ready to rest eyes on the pretty pretty pictures. Especially August. I think August is my favorite...

Thursday, December 4, 2008


We have to overcome a feeling of helplessness.
We have to hope.
-Jane Goodall

I passed this abandoned house today. Why do these old homesteads pull at my heart? Especially the lonely old ones. They get me. What other people see as helpless or hopeless, I've always thought of as beautiful and redeemable. It's what gotten me into trouble in my relationships. It's also one thing that's given me a sense of purpose in life.

I was at the local food bank today. People are hungry. People are hurting. People are looking for jobs they can't find and money they don't have. Times are tough and even I'm not immune. I'm facing a few bills I can't pay and am keeping a nervous eye on my bank account. And while I'm sometimes tempted to succumb to the helpless and hopeless air that's settled around my community, I try to hold out.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed....
Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
-2 Corinthians 4:8,16

Our situation is not helpless. Your situation is not helpless. Neither is mine. We have to overcome this feeling of helplessness. We have to hope....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Quiet Mind

A quiet mind cureth all.
-Robert Burton

That's what I'm praying for today: a quiet mind. Later I plan to slip on my present-wrapping apron and find a quiet minute and wrap a few handknit gifts. Ah, quiet time.

I love wrapping presents. When I lived in Dallas I had a present-wrapping party one year. Everyone brought their gifts and a roll of wrapping and some bows. I supplied the tape and scissors and gift tag makings and food (of course), and we wrapped and made gift tags and had a jolly time. It was fun, but I still prefer wrapping presents by myself. A little Christmas music, a little cocoa, and room at the foot of a sparkling tree and I could wrap a thousand presents.

I'm having to be really careful with the wrapped presents and the candy this year. The other night at the parade, Millie gobbed up candy thrown from floats. I was happily talking to a friend when a lady jostled my elbow and said, loudly, "Your dog is eating Sour Patch Kids." Sure enough, Millie had a plastic package of candy in her mouth, going for the kill. Since then, I've caught her in the candy canes, the presents and even the pinecones. It's all remedied now, and I'm glad to have the loot safely tucked away or in the pockets of my apron.

Speaking of aprons, if you don't have one, you need one. Dig yours out, make one yourself or choose from one of the handmade ones on the Freeman House Shop. (There are eight new ones!) Then fill the pockets with tape, scissors, gift tags, pens, bows, ribbon, etc., and you have yourself a portable gift-wrapping helper. Saves so much time, as scissors are always disappearing under paper and tape always gets... who knows where. I can't tell you the aggravation my Christmas apron saves!

Ooop... hang on. I hear rustling around the tree....


... hmm. Either Millie's psyching me out or she ate something by the time I got there. She looked all puppy-dog-eyed innocent. Who knows.

By the way, I'd like to offer a quick, heartfelt thanks to all you who've posted comments of encouragement and well-wishes on henrybella's. They mean the world. Things have been slower than I anticipated, but I'm eagerly looking toward Christmas goodies and anticipating the fun that will be had there.

Wishing you all a quiet mind today, if only in our hopes... -Brin

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Small Town Christmas Parade

There's something magical about tiny town Christmas parades. White stars twinkle over yellow street lights as sparse, friendly crowds gather.

Veterans carry our flag and their guns as they march by, proud and brave.

The high school band is a blur, tubas rounding out "Hark the Herald, Angels Sing". Mothers beam and siblings wave.

Homemade floats rumble past carrying friends with gloved hands and pink noses.

And finally, at the last, the big finish: Santa Claus. He waves and hohoho's from atop the shiny red fire truck, driven by our fearless volunteer firefighters.

And in the town square, the gazebo features a rocking chair. It awaits Santa and the squirming children who will pose for pictures in his lap while parents catch up and shake hands and eat funnel cake.

Ah, our small, happy Christmas parades. Long may they live.

(By the way, if you're planning on hitting up a Christmas parade or two, make and take a batch of our Christmas Crockpot Candy. You'll be a bigger hit than Santa. Guaranteed.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Introducing henrybella's...

Four years. Four years of dreaming and hoping and planning. And today it's here. Today my dreams get their wings. Today my hope gets a face. Today my plans bear fruit. Or cookies, rather.

Today henrybella's is online.

It's not perfect. I still have products and pictures to incorporate. And it's not necessarily what I envisioned. I wanted a prettier website, (which will come, hopefully after the first of the year). And I wanted a major launch party, complete with platters of sweets and friendly faces. I wanted banners and streamers and music and a brownie-float parade in a rain of chocolate chips.

But henrybella's is here, and she comes without a penny of debt. A small business miracle. I couldn't be more excited.

Henry and Bell Allen were my Great-Grandparents. Henry taught me to ride a horse. Bell taught me how to fish and how to bake. henrybella's is named after two of the most genuine, giving, loving, hard-working people I've ever known. They're gone now, but I'm pleased to be preserving their memory in my own small way.

Great. I'd planned to say all these wonderful things but now I'm crying. Today is so very emotional for so many reasons. So without further ado, I give you... I give you... I give you the hope of my heart: henrybella's bakery.

The Two Skirts

This is my favorite skirt. And this down here is Christina. And this is World AIDS Day. To me, they all fit together in a marvelous way. Let me explain.

During a recent conference, I wandered by an enormous booth set up by Compassion International. I'd heard of them before. Using private, donated funds, Compassion goes into areas like East Africa and provides clothing, meals, medical care, education and the Gospel to people who don't otherwise get much. If any.

So. I was walking by the Compassion table, thinking, "That's nice. That's so nice. Good for them," and I felt a gentle whisper stir my heart. Stop and look closely, it urged.

I stopped but I sighed. "God, I don't have a job. I'm going to need someone to sponsor me if things don't pick up," I reminded God. I have a habit of stating terribly obvious things to Him. (I wonder if He frowns or chuckles, especially when I consider everything is obvious to Him.)

Stop and look, it persisted.

I did. I stopped. I looked. I looked at dozens and dozens of pictures and bios of needy children. It was heartbreaking, but I was about to walk away. Then Christina caught my eye. Or, rather...

Look at her skirt. Remind you of anything? She's the one. She's your girl. Sponsor her.

I tried not to get all weepy-eyed as I stared at her little face. And her skirt. Then I read that Christina lives in an AIDS-impacted community in Tanzania, where more than anything she likes art. And perhaps... just perhaps... if she has someone like me to invest a little in her future, she might have a chance at being a happy, healthy adult.

So Christina became my friend. We've written. I pray for her and the Compassion people at Christina's project center say she prays for me. Her pictures sits on my nightstand and I think of her often, wondering what she's doing... what she's learning. But most of all I'm relieved that there are people there - with her everyday - with medical care and a hot meal and a smile.

Lots of these "sponsor a child" places are gimmicky. I often wondered whether donated money ever got to the kids. Compassion International is different. I can vouch for their work. I even hope to go down and see them in 2009, and meet Christina face to face.

So on World AIDS Day, a day that makes us shudder and think hopeless thoughts, I'm encouraged knowing that there are people out there doing something about it. There are people out there fighting the disease and making a difference, one life at a time.

If you had told me six months ago that I'd care so deeply for a child I'd never met in AIDS-torn Africa, I would have laughed. But my God is the divine matchmaker. He's a water-from-rock type of God, too. And it's amazing what He can do. In my case it took a skirt in Texas and a skirt in Tanzania to do it, but He did.

My heart and prayers are with all those affected today by AIDS. -Brin