Saturday, May 30, 2009

Happiness and Hydrangeas... Hope and Honey

The art of being happy lies in the power
of extracting happiness from common things.
-Henry Ward Beecher

So. Hi. I'm here, with my hands in my back pockets, rocking from my heels up to my toes, blushing. Hi. It's me again.

It's been many weeks, hasn't it? Maybe someday I'll find some courage and use it to tell you all what's been happening in and around me these past few months. Someday. It won't happen today, I assure you. All I can say is, I think I'm back to blogging and I have missed you all dearly. It's good to see you again. You were okay while we were apart, weren't you? Fill me in. Tell me everything.

Everything bloomed while I was away from blogging. These hydrangeas - planted by Ms. Freeman herself some 40 years ago - are at their best today. Truly. The blooms are as large as dinner plates, and the thick-with-dew morning breeze sways them into the peeling, grayed walls of this house. The window pictured here is my bedroom window, along with the hydrangea that sits underneath.

Years ago, back during the second World War, my room was used as a kitchen. A worn table used to sit on the other side of this window. I imagine brides and then children and then old, tired men looking out from the wavy-paned glass onto the frothy blue-and-violet petals below, just as I do now. I wonder if they thought about the same things I do: life... love... dreams... happiness. I wonder if they came to the same conclusion about it all that Beecher and I have: that the art of being happy... of being hopeful... comes from extracting every bit of hope and happiness you can from the common things. It's all much like the bee who extracts good things from blossoms and then carries them home, knowing one day it will all collect and run together and become something substantive and sweet.

Happiness and hydrangeas... hope and honey - they have much in common, if you ask me.

So. So you know, things may begin looking differently around here in the coming months. I want to add some features and introduce you to some new things I love. (Like Picnik, the new [free!] photo editing software I'm using to play with pictures now.) I want to tidy the place up a bit. I still haven't made a decision on ads, but I do know that the bakery isn't turning a profit yet, and this girl's got to do something to survive. Living on hope is running its course.

In the meantime, we'll plan for a calm and comforting summer, and continue to press our noses to our windows and look out, extracting every bit of hope and happiness we can from the common things.

So then. It's hello again. I'm settling back in again. It's good to be back. -Brin

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stripes and Summer

Sneaking in to tell you that I spent some time over the Memorial Day weekend dreaming up some breezy summer totes for us all. (Because we know, of course, that totes are all the rage this summer.) Thought I'd tell you that the first are up in the Etsy Shop, and I promise more as the summer wears, happily, on.

Stop by and shop - without getting up - by clicking here.

And. I think I'm reconsidering blogging. I'm considering a return to blogging. With stipulations. Stipulations that involve earning money. (Sigh). I just don't know. I just can't decide....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May 2009 Freeman House Newsletter (Updated!)

The world's favorite season is the spring.
All things seem possible in May.
-Edwin Way Teale

It is May at Freeman House. April's cool winds have retired, leaving drizzly showers to take their place. Daffodils have given way to roses and hydrangeas, and the garden is awake and at work. In the evenings, I cut fistfulls of blooming, reaching things and bring them indoors.

They make me deeply, quietly satisfied.

With all my time and efforts and attention devoted to the bakery, I'm getting little done at Freeman House. I have hung some pictures... and an Italian mirror I found three years ago (for $10!) in the library. This room. Gosh. I adore it. It's my favorite place to be.

As longtime readers of this blog know, the home didn't start that way: being my favorite place to be, that is. This is the library, half-renovated:

And here's that same corner and window now:

The chair is one of my best places to read. The light is perfect. The room is calm. I light candles and kick my feet up and bury my heart and head in a book.

Some books I've read this spring? Surprisingly many. (When have I had the time? Now I'm puzzled.) Some have been disappointing. Others have been a life line. In no particular order (and without prejudicing you with my little opinions or moral objections to characters/character behavior), they are:

There's still much to be done in this room. The mantle needs to be finished; I've sanded off the old lead paint and have begun to stain it. (Yuck.) The 120 year old pine floors still need to be restored. As does the chimney and fire place. And the moldings. And ... gosh. Thinking about all that remains to be accomplished has me reaching for my panic attack meds. But I do, already, adore this space. It's collected and cluttered but calm, like me.

Elsewhere in the house, work continues. Especially in the kitchen. Always in the kitchen. Right now, Lemon Balm, Mint and Thyme spread out on racks and dry. Soon there'll be organic teas and herbal bath salts.

Although much is the same, much has changed around here. The bakery keeps me busier than ever. Slowly, a rhythm has presented itself, but I've found that baking for yourself- baking for friends, even - is far different than baking for the public. I crave solitude the way others crave socialization; being "out" every day, keeping up a public face, is torture for me. I dislike the interruptions... I'm easily annoyed by the necessary chatter and introductions and small talk. (Or, in a few words, serving customers. Yikes.) I need to hire someone to be me, so I can be me....

Spring has brought rain, and the drizzle has played outside the windows lately, coming down in droves. Outside, Millie's watched as I've fished clothespins from puddles; apparently the clothespin bag has filled with water numerous times, sending the pins swimming in the mud below. I've gathered them and brought them inside to wash, carefully turning and drying them along with my favorite wooden kitchen utensils. (This spoon a hand-carved beauty with a crooked "1884" scratched into its back.)

The clothespin and spoons are pieces in a Freeman House game I'm playing now: sort of a how-low-can-your-electric-bill-go? game. By carefully averaging my usual summer electric bills in years past, I've devised a dollar amount that I should expect to pay each month for the electric. Anything I can save off that I'm turning into fun money. Or maybe into a wood-burning oven for my kitchen. We'll see. All I know is that clothespins negate a dryer and spoons a mixer, so I'm the sure winner in my summer electricity game.

So what have my spoons been busy mixing up? Lately it's this: Lemon Balm Shortbread. I haven't served it yet at henrybella's, but likely will soon. Here's the recipe in case you want to try it, too:


2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 splash vanilla
1 cup fresh Lemon Balm leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 325° F.

In a large bowl with a wooden spoon, stir together butter and sugar until they make a grainy paste. Stir in flour and baking powder, working it together for 30 seconds or so. Crack in eggs and pour in vanilla. Combine well, using your hands to knead dough, if necessary. (This usually isn’t necessary for me, but I’m an enthusiastic stir-er.) Sprinkle in most of the lemon balm (or whatever you’re using: lemon or lime zest, chunks of fruit, etc.) and mix until it’s well incorporated throughout the dough.

Turn onto a floured board or counter and roll until it’s as thin as your pinkie finger. Lightly press remaining lemon balm into top of dough. Transfer to baking sheet and bake at 325°F for 15 minutes or until it begins to turn golden brown at the edges.

Remove from oven, cool, and cut into shapes using your favorite cookie cutters. Dust with powdered sugar too, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

At the sweet shop, I generally use this recipe to roll out two very thin sheets of shortbread, then bake them with a layer of homemade strawberry jam between the sheets. After they bake and cool, they're cut into heart shapes and dusted with powdered sugar. The Strawberry Shortbread Hearts are a big seller and a favorite of many customers.

So. Adjusting. Baking. Hosting. Writing. Making new friends. Attending graduations. Trying to keep up. That's life here in May.

Of course, we can't forget about Millie. She plays next door all day, then sits at the kitchen door in the evenings as I make dinner, often catching a nap here and there.

She's as loyal and amusing as ever. The best friend a girl could hope for.

Such a sweet, agreeable pup.

Speaking of sweet, agreeable things, I've been quietly working on these - I call them Hanky Stacks. A Hanky Stack consists of three hand-or-machine stitched cotton hankies. The fabrics and thread are cheerful poking out of bags and pockets and purses, and I've found them to be my eco-friendly and charming answer for a variety of life situations, including: spills, bawling at movies, wiping eyes and noses, sopping sweat after workouts, relieving the heat, removing funky stains (and fingernail polish!)... even cleaning the dog's paws. My gosh, are they great!

If you're interested in a set, they're $9.99 each, and that includes postage to mail them from Freeman House to your door. Check them out by clicking here....

So... that's some of the latest here. Hope your spring has been lovely. Happy May, and Memorial Day!, from Millie and me.

Warmly, Brin